Lt Gen Raj Kadyan
Former Deputy Chief of Army Staff
In an armed intrusion and attack on an administrative army base in Uri base on 18 Sep 2016, seventeen Indian soldiers were martyred; the figure is still rising. Going by the sheer scale of fatal casualties, this is the most severe in a series of attacks since the early 1990s. These attacks are unlikely to stop unless we tackle the source from where they originate.
This is not an ordinary terror attack, of which India has faced many. In unambiguous terms, this is an attack by Pakistan on India. Pakistan's signature is unmistakable. First, there were clear Pakistani markings on the equipment as revealed by the Indian DGMO. Some of the munitions used, such as the incendiary grenades are not normally available in civil. Second, the attack happened within 6 km of the LoC. Irrespective of whether the attackers belonged to JeM, LeT, HM or a BAT, a mix of terrorists and Pakistan’s Special Services Group, they could not have got there, nor mounted the attack without Pakistani military’s active support. It also does not matter whether it was ISI/Army or the toothless civilian government of Nawaz Sharif that supported or cleared the attack. For us, it was the state of Pakistan that did it and they must be made to pay a price for their perfidy.
Whole of India today is angry. And rightly so. How long can we see our soldiers losing their lives because of an irresponsible and erratic neighbour? There is a clamour for retribution, to avenge the martyrdom of our brave soldiers. And retribution it must be.
There are some attempts to point out security lapses on the part the Army. There might have been. Soldiers on the border focus more on safeguarding the nation than on their own safety and security. However, it is an internal matter for the Army to investigate and correct. At this stage, discussion on any such shortcoming is out of context. Even if a lacuna existed, it does not give Pakistan the licence to attack. A thief cannot claim innocence on the grounds that his target house was unlocked.
What should our response be? Should it be diplomatic, or military, or a combination of these and some more? The issue needs to be considered from a long term as well from short-term perspective. Ideally, it should be a combination of all options available.
We have succeeded in isolating Pakistan in the world community to a great extent. Recently, while speaking in Laos, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi made a pitch for collective isolation and sanctions against Pakistan, he found active support from Afghanistan and BanglaDesh, the two countries that have also suffered Pak-sponsored terrorist attacks. Besides, no one opposed the suggestion.
Other long-term measures could be on trade, visa restrictions, the drawdown of diplomatic representation, discontinuing the bus service between the two countries, restricting sports and cultural ties and reducing people-to-people contacts etc. We could also consider abrogation of the Indus Water Treaty, the only treaty that Pakistan has scrupulously respected because they are the beneficiaries. However, apart from being of an uncertain outcome, none of these measures will have an immediate impact.
For immediate impact, military retribution is the only answer and needs to be adopted. This is also the need of the hour. All along, some of us, including this writer, have advocated a mature and restrained response in dealing with Pakistan. That was based on the fond hope that Pakistan may see reason and accept to march together with India towards peace and prosperity. Unfortunately, Pakistan mistook our patience for our weakness and has continued to attack India.
Patience is finite, and now it is exhausted. The threshold is clearly crossed with the Uri attack. Time has come to speak to Pakistan in the language they understand. We have the required means and methods and now, going by all indications, we also have the political will and go-ahead. After the PM tweeted on 18 Sep that those behind this despicable attack will not go unpunished, there seems no doubt or ambiguity.
The military retribution must be swift, severe and visible; the last is necessary for the country's morale. Where, when, what and how are to be decided by the military. Suffice it to say that we must exploit our strengths and play on Pakistan's weaknesses and choose our response accordingly. There are enough options short of declaring an all-out war. With the existing technology and high-end weapons, desired punishment can be inflicted from a stand-off distance. While no Army in the world is ever fully equipped for all the envisaged tasks, India possesses the required superiority vis-a-vis Pakistan in conventional means.
There are cautionary voices being heard on account of Pakistan being a nuclear state. More of it is coming from across the border, including from their political leaders. Such sabre rattling itself shows that they are worried at our conventional response and their nuclear bluff being called. A nation that actually intends to use such weapons would not be talking about it in public. They are simply using their nukes for blackmail. There are clear pointers for this. Despite other erratic behaviour, no leader in Pakistan, military or political, has exhibited suicidal tendencies till date. Also, Pakistan well knows that India's nuclear policy is of 'no first use' and it is not a policy of 'no use'. On the outside chance of Pakistan venturing into this option, India will surely suffer massive damage, but given our size and depth, we will be able to absorb it. On the other hand, Pakistan may not see the next daylight.
It needs recalling that during Kargil war when Nawaz Sharif had rushed to the US on 4 July 1999, he had wanted Clinton to ask India to cease fire and talk. Otherwise, according to Sharif's perception, Pakistan may use nuclear weapons. In effect, agreeing to this suggestion would have merely shifted the LoC further east. With Pakistan still holding the heights, they would have continued interfering with the Srinagar-Leh road. India rightly rejected the suggestion. The nuclear threat proved hollow and the blackmail attempt failed.
While agreeing that the government must not be rushed into responding, they also do not have the luxury of too much time. If the punishment is not meted out this time, and the issue is allowed to be forgotten, people are unlikely to forget or forgive.