India has finally called Pakistan’s bluff on cross border terrorism by giving a free hand to its Army in responding, at a time of its choosing, to the terrorist offensive at Uri, in which as many as 18 soldiers were killed and a similar number injured. In surgical strikes carried out by para commandos of the Indian Army on the intervening night of 28/29 September on the launch pads of terrorists located at multiple points across the LOC, dozens of potential infiltrators, besides two Pakistani army men were killed. The Indian action was in the nature of a “pre-emptive” strike against terrorist camps that were being used—according to intelligence flowing to the Army from our national agencies—for further attacks on India. Lt Gen Ranbir Singh, DGMO, announced to the press that the operation had been completed and “closed” without the Indian side suffering any casualty. He also revealed that his Pakistani counterpart had been given the details of the operation and the reason why it was carried out.
A senior Cabinet minister had responded to Uri by saying that India-Pakistan relations would never be the same again. In a swift switchover of policy, the Modi government decided to go all out to expose Pakistan as a “terror state” before the world and mandated the Indian Army to use all its might in giving a suitable reply to the Uri massacre. The Pakistan army was clearly combining an external offensive through infiltrated terrorists, with an escalated subversion in the valley through its agents and separatists and testing Indian response to its determined bid of using terrorist violence for compelling India to resume talks on Kashmir. A policy change in favour of stern reciprocity towards Pakistan therefore came not a day too soon.
In line with the deep national indignation and people’s call for revenge over the Uri attack, Prime Minister Narendra Modi used the public platform at Kozhikode to denounce Pakistan comprehensively and deliver a warning that the Uri attack would not be forgotten or forgiven. Modi made three crucial observations. He acknowledged for the first time that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was a Pakistan army rubber stamp, who merely read out the speeches prepared by the terrorist masterminds. Secondly, Modi lambasted Pakistan as the hub of global terror, describing it as the “one nation in Asia” that was plunging the region into bloodshed and terrorism, and reiterated that the Pakistan regime was committing atrocities on the people in Balochistan, Sindh and other places. And finally, while praising the Indian Army and the security forces for countering terrorism with courage and determination, the Prime Minister exhorted them to deal with terrorists with full might. India’s External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj forcefully put on the world stage what Narendra Modi had spelt out before the nation. In her address at the UN General Assembly she warned the world against making a distinction between “good terrorists” and “bad terrorists”, a point she had earlier made at Islamabad also.
A major challenge for Indian diplomacy has been to get the US to see India’s case against Pakistan on the issue of cross border terrorism. It seems Pakistan army was presuming that the state of US-Pakistan relationship and the strong China-Pakistan axis worked to its advantage. It had reasons to believe that. US Secretary of State John Kerry, on his recent visit to India, merely said that he had asked Pakistan not to allow terrorists to operate from its soil, but went on with his effusive praise of the Pakistan army for fighting Islamic radicals. And on Uri, Kerry’s tame response once more was that he had asked Pakistan to cooperate with the Indian probe into that brazen terror attack. Susan Rice has done better by telling her Indian counterpart Ajit Doval that White House expected Pakistan to take “effective action to combat and delegitimize” the UN-designated terrorist entities of LeT and JeM. American policymakers, it seems, believe that the US needs the Pakistan army to protect its interests in Afghanistan against a resurgent Taliban-Al Qaeda combine. The Pakistan army was convinced that its equations with US would remain unchanged.
A switch to aggressive defence by India against cross border terrorism has rightly been combined with a diplomatic initiative to tell the world that India would take on the terrorists without seeking to engage Pakistan in a war. The successful surgical strikes across the LOC have been made strictly within the parameters of action necessitated by the threat of continued terrorist infiltration. The Pakistan army is caught in the dilemma of having to admit the existence of terror launch pads under its nose and that is why its first response to the action by Indian Army was to project it as a mere border incident of exchange of fire. Gen Raheel Sharif is close to his retirement and has to get the civilian leadership on his side for planning Pakistan army’s response to India. India has to remain fully prepared to handle any moves by the Pakistan army and ISI on or beyond the battlefield. It is a matter of great satisfaction that all political parties in India have rallied behind the government in dealing with the situation as it unfolds.
D.C. Pathak is a former Director, Intelligence Bureau