Why Response Needed? Why Surgical Strikes?

It was important to carve a unique response to the terror attacks of Uri. This response had to be at two levels: cognitive and physical. The psychological aspect again worked on two levels; to assure the countrymen and own soldiers that the armed forces were more than capable of retaliating and protecting the nation, and the second was to send a signal to Pakistan that India will not always resort to strategic restraint if attacked. This was accomplished by acknowledging the strikes, an unprecedented step, as these actions generally remained behind the façade of tactics, never coming to the fore in the public imagination.

Why Response Needed? Why Surgical Strikes?
Why Response Needed? Why Surgical Strikes?

Shailesh Kumar, National Defence,
New Delhi, 17 September 2018

India and Pakistan achieved unofficial nuclear power status in 1998 with nuclear tests conducted by both the neighbouring countries in succession. India, post the nuclear tests concentrated on its economic and social progress while functioning as a stable democracy. Pakistan, on the other hand, used the pretext of these tests to try and address three issues. The first one was an attempt to equate its status to that of India by referring to the unstable stability that the rough nuclear parity accorded to the region and de-hyphenate itself from its war-torn cousin, Afghanistan. The second issue was to raise the bogey of India as a regional hegemon which wanted to ride roughshod over the entire South Asian neighbourhood and emphasise the narrative of development of nuclear weapons as a way to defend itself. The third and final issue was that of using proxy actors to ‘bleed India by a thousand cuts’, using nuclear blackmail as state policy.

The Kargil war in 1999 broke a major myth that limited war could not be waged under the nuclear shadow. Indian restraint to keep the war limited on its own side encouraged Pakistan to step up the frequency and audacity of the attacks. Major attacks were executed in the Indian heartland such as New Delhi and Mumbai by Pakistan based non state actors.


 

In the post Kargil scenario, after the 2001 Parliament attacks India ordered Operation Parakram, the massive mobilisation of troops on the Punjab and Rajasthan border to cow Pakistan into ceding India’s demands which included handing over of Maulana Masood Azhar and Dawood Ibrahim among many others. However, the entire nature of international relations had changed due to the events of 11 September 2001. Pakistan had again gained traction in the eyes of the international community especially the Americans due to its acceptance of its role as a major ally on the War on Terror.

In 2008, the Mumbai attacks happened and India, eschewing military options, resorted to diplomacy to paint Pakistan as a state sponsor of terrorism on the world forum. With the turn of the decade, it became clear that the attacks on civilians in India had almost ceased and the focus had shifted to attacks on garrisons, almost all in the state of Jammu and Kashmir. Gurdaspur and Pathankot occurred in quick succession and resulted in substantial casualties to the armed forces. This was again part of a new strategy by Pakistan to inject violence into the Kashmir valley and demoralise the armed forces by attacking them continuously. There was also an element of plausible deniability on part of the Pakistani state by helplessly declaring that they themselves were victims of terror and most of the groups attacking the garrisons were not under Pakistani control.

Post Kargil, Indian coercive measures have had to work under an overarching frame of an unstable deterrence, made worse by both sides’ declaration of their nuclear power status and with Pakistan’s willingness to use this as a buffer to push in proxies into Kashmir. Pakistan has also worked towards propagating the concept of Full Spectrum Deterrence (FSD) by allegedly incorporating tactical nuclear weapons (TNWs) into its warfighting doctrine against India and trying to counter India’s pro active strategy.

Three attacks that occurred almost in succession ie Gurdaspur, Pathankot and Uri were all attacks on military garrisons that caused significant casualties to the armed forces personnel and also revealed the new nature of the threat from Pakistan. Post 2008, there was significant pressure on Pakistan to rein in the militant factions and there have been no attacks on civilians in India since. However, the new strategy has revealed a renewed offensive by the Islamist militants, egged on and guided by the Pakistani army inside the Kashmir Valley to demonstrate the fallibility of the Indian army and its ability to protect the civilians, thereby breeding a new Islamist-dominated narrative, aiming to establish sharia in the Valley.

It was important to carve a unique response to the terror attacks of Uri. This response had to be at two levels: cognitive and physical. The psychological aspect again worked on two levels; to assure the countrymen and own soldiers that the armed forces were more than capable of retaliating and protecting the nation, and the second was to send a signal to Pakistan that India will not always resort to strategic restraint if attacked. This was accomplished by acknowledging the strikes, an unprecedented step, as these actions generally remained behind the façade of tactics, never coming to the fore in the public imagination. A joint press conference held by the DGMO and MEA spokesperson announced the strikes and also hinted at the option of similar actions in the future if Pakistan’s behavior persisted. At the physical level, it served three purposes: the first one was for the surgical strikes to serve as a ‘Proof of Concept’ for similar actions, secondly to provide another incremental step in the ladder of escalation for India and finally attain deterrence by denial by targeting terrorist infrastructure inside PoK, cutting off the terror pipeline from its source.

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