Surgical Strikes Special: Uri Attack & Pakistan’s Proxy War

The Uri attacks, due to the nature of the attacks and the scale, 19 killed and many more injured, bridged the gap between terror and the forces being supposed fair game. The response had to come, to show the world that India would not take every attack on its territory or its armed forces lying down. There was also a need to teach Pakistan a modified version of Newton’s Third Law: Every action of theirs was now to be subjected to a disproportionate response

Shailesh Kumar, National Defence
New Delhi, 27 September 2018

There are only a few magnitudes of separation between history and infamy. Both have the power to shape the destiny of a nation. The barbarous attack of Sep 18, 2016, colloquially known as the Uri Attacks was one. Coming in the wake of targeted attacks on Indian military garrisons such as Pathankot, the callousness with which it was carried out numbed the coldest of hearts. Just before daybreak of Sep 18, 2016, four murderers dressed in army fatigues, cut the wire fencing of the Uri garrison and unleashed mayhem with rifles, grenades and an incendiary chemical mixture. Troops of a newly inducted infantry battalion, sleeping in open tents due to paucity of space, were the obvious targets and a firestorm engulfed the encampment, gutting it to the ground. 19 soldiers, a mix of young blood and grizzly veterans, were martyred.

A nation shocked, the social media went in frenzy, accentuated by live reporting on ground by some enterprising reporters who relayed the images of the camp under siege. Every Indian was affected and the latent anger, over Pakistan’s treachery, flooded the media circles. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi condemned the attack and warned Pakistan that the sacrifice of India’s 19 jawans will not go in vain. “We will leave no stone unturned to isolate Pakistan in the world,” Modi said post Uri attacks. Kashmir was already engulfed in violence in the aftermath of Burhan Wani’s killings, demonstrations and violence sponsored by the Pakistani state sponsored proxies, Lashkar e Toiba (LeT) and Jaish e Mohammad (JeM) being the prominent ones.

This trend was a recent one. After the bad publicity over the carnage in Mumbai and when there was a real chance of war breaking out in the Indian subcontinent, Pakistan has adopted a clever strategy of targeting India’s armed forces, especially in the restive Kashmir Valley and the bordering state of Punjab. Fearing that a high civilian toll could push India to the brink of war and having seen the might of the Indian state during Operation Parakram when it had to literally beg the United States to use its good offices to avoid a calamitous defeat, Pakistan has focused on intermediate level attacks on the Indian armed forces’ garrisons. This, according to them, helped serve a dual purpose: targeting Indian forces to prove their inability to protect themselves let alone the civilian population and keeping the quantum of casualties to a level which would not provide Indian with any provocation to launch a war.

Gen Zia ul Haq had declared that it would be the Pakistani army’s state policy to bleed India by a thousand cuts. This was false confidence due to Pakistan’s involvement in the Afghan jihad and the dictator felt that the same foot soldiers, now harassing the Soviets in the barren country could be used to create chaos inside the Kashmir valley, suck in the Indian army and finally wrest the entire state from India. There was no dearth of radicalised young men ready to die for jihad and with the continuous influx of foreign fighters from places as far as Algeria, Egypt, Sudan to name a few, and a local mass-propaganda factory in the form of madrassas churning out fighters in the hundreds every month, Pakistan started to inject them into the Kashmir Valley. The entire Jammu and Kashmir state was wrapped in a blood haze with killings, assassinations and murders deluding the paradise on earth.

India responded initially with paramilitary forces and finally brought in the army in the form of Rashtriya Rifles (RR), a multi-service force trained and equipped for counter-insurgency (CI) operations. Officers and soldiers from the RR, keeping in mind the tenets of CI operations in mind such as keeping the population safe and winning hearts and minds (WHAM) conducted brilliant operations eliminating a significant majority of militants with minimum collateral. However, Pakistan kept on pushing terrorists and later, sensing defeat of its agenda in Kashmir, started spreading terror in major Indian cities. New Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, Pune were all victims. Pakistan also started enticing young men from Maharashtra, Gujarat to take part in terror activities in their home country as part of the notorious Karachi Project, a mix of militants, retired and serving officers of the Pakistani army and operatives of the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI). This created unrest in the country with the rise of Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) and Indian Mujahideen (IM) and increased terror attacks in the country.

Mumbai, a victim of communal riots was rocked in 2007 with simultaneous bombs targeting the packed commuter trains, Mumbai’s lifeline. The city was brought down to its knees but with the concerted efforts of the state government, was brought back up in record tioome. However, it was the massacre of unarmed civilians by LeT terrorists that defied logic and human nature. Militants from the banned terror outfit reached Mumbai’s shores and carried out one of the most heinous attacks in the history of mankind, moving from room to room in the iconic Taj Palace hotel and brutally killing civilians, along with murdering innocents, young, old, men, women and children even infants at the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, Bhikaji Cama Hotel and the Chabad House at Nariman Point. It was only after the bravery of the National Security Guard (NSG), personified by the gritty Maj Sandeep Unnikrishnan, were the last of the terrorists killed. Ajmal Kasab, the terrorist who was captured by the Mumbai police divulged details of the unholy alliance between the military and the militants in Pakistan and how their handlers in Karachi were remote controlling the entire operation.

Pakistan was isolated from the entire world with condemnation pouring from all sides. Indian policymakers debated going to war. There was a growing feeling in Pakistan that such mass casualty events could lead to a conventional war with dangers of going nuclear. Both countries’ nuclear status had not prevented India’s aggressive response during the Kargil intrusions. Pakistan then reinitiated its relationship with various terror outfits, trying to divert them to the Kashmir Valley instead of fighting them on their Western border. Also there was an attempt to target the armed forces instead of civilians so as to take the focus away from terror and making it a part of the alleged freedom struggle for Kashmir. The Uri attacks, due to the nature of the attacks and the scale, 19 killed and many more injured, bridged the gap between terror and the forces being supposed fair game. The response had to come, to show the world that India would not take every attack on its territory or its armed forces lying down. There was also a need to teach Pakistan a modified version of Newton’s Third Law: Every action of theirs was now to be subjected to a disproportionate response.

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