Surgical Strike and its Likely Aftermath
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Issue Net Edition | Date : 06 Oct , 2016

One of the options available to the Central Govt to avenge the Uri attack, was what was eventually undertaken by troops of 9 and 4 Special Forces Battalions, assisted by the Ghattak Platoons of the two units , 10 DOGRA and 6 BIHAR, which had suffered heavily in Uri. It was, perhaps, the most obvious option. That it succeeded eminently proves that Pakistan had allowed itself to be lulled into a deep complacency because of India’s track record of exercising self-imposed strategic restraint ever since the start of Pakistan-sponsored insurgency in Kashmir in 1989-90.

Any other country in India’s place would have been shaken into action on at least four occasions, i.e., 1999 Kargil operations (India refused to cross the LoC, despite being well within its rights to do so),attack on Indian Parliament in 2001, Mumbai attack of 2008, and finally the attack on our most sensitive Air Force Base at Pathankot, in 2014; A base that is across the International Border and not on LoC.

But India continued to wager its money on the civilian govt in Pakistan, hoping that it will see sense and stop provoking India any further. But those who control the Pakistani deep State, i.e., the Pakistani Armed Forces, particularly its Army, have been brought up on the staple diet of many easy victories scored by the medieval Muslim invaders over ‘Hindu’ India. The staple diet also contains the oft repeated stories of invincible Ghaznis, Ghoris, Nadir Shahs and Ahmad Shah Abdalis, facing little opposition whenever these invaders decided to cross the Indus with the aim of plundering this rich land.

The youth of Pakistan, particularly its young Army officers, have been brought up on the twisted logic dished out by the State patronized  historians who continue to peddle the theory that Hans keliyahei Pakistan; Lad kelenge Hindustan (“Pakistan was taken without a fight, and rest of India will be taken after a fight.”). False sense of bravado of Pakistani Army, based on its much touted theory that each Pakistani soldier is equal to 100 ‘Hindu’ soldiers, makes them reckless. This was the reason behind their 1947 invasion of Jammu and Kashmir, or for that matter, of 1965 and 1999 Kargil operations. In 1971, Indira Gandhi made a fool of that whisky sipping Gen, Yahya Khan, whose military honour was provoked into attacking Indian Air Force bases thoughtlessly on 3 Dec 1971, giving Indira enough reason to launch an all out war to liberate Bangladesh.

Despite getting a bloody nose in all these wars, Pakistan continues to threaten and provoke India, unshaken in the belief that its Muslim soldiers are invincible against the ‘Hindu’ Army. As if all this was not a poisonous brew by itself, what has made the belligerent heads of their Generals even more bloated is the fact that they now have nuclear weapons, which they threaten to use even at the slightest pretext.

All these factors, including India’s record of not making Pakistan pay for its policy of “bleeding India through thousand cuts” during the past 27 years, convinced the Pakistani Generals that India’s bark will continue to be louder than its bite. However, two things had changed in India during the past three years. We had a government that was voted to power on the specific promise of it acting tough against Pakistan’s repeated attacks on India through its Jihadis, who continue to be rolled out from its factories owned by Hafiz Syed and Masood Azhar, with the active connivance of its Army. Secondly, no Govt worth its name in India could have let Uri remain un-avenged, seeing the way Indians felt incensed by the loss of so many of its soldiers in one strike.

The resounding success that the operation of 29 Sept 2016, achieved, was mainly on account of its detailed planning , flawless execution and near perfect synergy that was needed to be ensured between numerous elements required to be brought on the same page for carrying out an operation as complex as this one. The degree of difficulty involved was enormous and the success of the operation hinged on far too many minor things going wrong at some stage of the operation.

Let us see the bare minimum number of  agencies involved in the planning and execution of the operation; external intelligence ( primarily R&AW), the IB, sources on ground, troops of at least 4 units ( 4 and 9 Special Forces Battalions and 6 BIHAR and 10 DOGRA), AF command structure, as the choppers were used to ferry the troops close to LoC and were on stand –by to cater for any unforeseen eventuality, the two Corps Commanders ( being a trans-Pir Panjal operation, both 15 and 16 Corps Commanders were to be taken on board), the GoC- in- C Northern Command and some part of his General Staff Branch and then the troops deployed on the Line of Control through whose areas the infiltration prior to the operation and exfiltration after the operation took place. When you add a distance of 250 km of front over which this operation was carried out, you can visualise the enormity of the problems which were encountered and overcome.

Special Forces operations, by their very nature, are entirely dependent on the secret planning, surprise gained during the execution and finally, on ensuring security of own troops during exfiltration. Be it Operation Gerinimo (that took out Osama Bin Laden), Operation across Myanmar, or this one, the most important contributory factors to the success of such operations were the ‘surprise’ achieved and the high level of training of the troops.

Pakistani Reaction

Having been caught with their pants down, the Pakistan Army totally denied that any such surgical strike had been launched by India. This was, perhaps, the best course of action open to them for various reasons. Firstly, the Indian reaction to Uri attack was on the expected lines and Pakistani troops on the Line of Control or the Jihadis in their launch pads should have been prepared for such a strike. Having been taken by surprise, Pakistani Army, by denying any such strike by India, need not do any explaining to its own people for the massive failure it suffered at the hands of its nemesis, the Indian Army. Secondly, it need not hurry into any kind of retaliatory action against India due to non-existence of any public pressure. Now, it can and will take its own time to do so, after thorough planning and preparation which will involve creating a smoke screen to lull India into complacency.

What options does Pakistan have?

Pakistan, essentially, has four options;

(1). To carry out a similar shallow surgical strike on Indian posts on the Line of Control or even across the International Border. In both cases, they will use the troops of their Special Forces in disguise. If all goes well, they will claim the credit for it. If anything untoward happens, they will say that non–State actors, who are beyond their control, were involved. As is their wont, they will not even accept the dead bodies of their own troops, a la Kargil or Mumbai.

(2). To occupy some stretch of rugged and unoccupied terrain along the 765 Km long Line of Control, as they did during Kargil, and create a difficult situation for India. It may be noted that despite LoC being guarded round the clock by heavy deployment of forces, there are certain stretches along the riverine stretches and in the inhospitable high altitude areas which can be occupied stealthily by an adversary, without causing much suspicion.

(3). The third option would be to carry out repeated and sustained strikes on the military/ security forces camps in the Valley to create an impression that India has lost control of Kashmir and to seek international attention/intervention. Besides, any collateral damage occurring as a result, would create resentment among the locals, leading to their further alienation. The Attack on 46 RR camp in Baramulla Oct 2, 2016, is an indication of things to come.

(4)The fourth option available to Pakistan is to strike civilian targets in Indian cities to inflict damage on highly vulnerable soft targets. Such strikes are easy to carry out through their sleeper cells and politically difficult to handle for the Indian Government. Pakistan could also exploit India’s huge coastline to infiltrate sea-borne Jihadis to hit at lucrative targets on the coastline or even in hinterland, a la Mumbai. Though such strikes will attract world-wide condemnation, but Pakistan has lived with such condemnation before. World opinion is unlikely to deter it, as long as it can inflict damage on India and earn kudos from its many anti India Jihadi organisations which Pakistan nurtures through its Islamic seminaries.

Indian Reaction

India, through its surgical strike across the Line of Control, has raised the bar for its future actions. It has broken its long held and self imposed strategic restraint of not crossing the LoC. From now on, LoC is merely a line which is no longer sacrosanct. India took pains to explain to the world that Indian strike had been targeted against the militants (whom Pakistan itself calls non-State actors) and not against Pakistani Army, and the strike itself was launched in PoK, an area which India considers to be under illegal occupation of Pakistan. Such niceties apart, the fact is that Pakistan has repeatedly said that any attack on PoK would be considered an attack on Pakistan. That is why it denied that India had carried out any such strike there. Acceptance of the Indian strike would have compelled Pakistan to act immediately in a hurried manner, entailing enormous risks.

What can India do hereafter? It has its tasks cut out; take out, Sayeed Salahudeen, Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, Maulana Masood Azhar and Dawood Ibrahim. It must, through the use of smart bombs, based on the state of the art military technology, target the first three of the above mentioned proclaimed enemies within Pakistan. Its drones/aircraft must ensure that there is as little collateral damage as possible. More importantly, Sayeed Salahudeen, Hafiz Muhammad Saeed and Maulana Masood Azhar must be targeted while they are on their routine, rabble rousing tours of PoK. For Dawood Ibrahim, other methods can be employed; for example an inside job (remember poisoning of Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi, recently).

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Likely Scenario

Gen Raheel Sharif is retiring next month. With the kind of political structure existing within Pakistan, Army Chief will continue to grow stronger under the existing tensions between India and Pakistan. As per the media reports, Nawaz Sharif, the elected Prime Minister, is unlikely to grant him any extension. Raheel Sharif, being highly ambitious with an envious pedigree, is unlikely to go with just a whimper. Therefore, his anticipated action against India will come at a time when the public opinion will compel Nawaz Sharif to grant him an extension.

No matter what form the retaliatory action from Pakistan will take, there is less likelihood of an open war breaking out between the two adversaries. Pakistan is tied up on its western border on the Durand Line; India would rather spend its resources on the massive game –changing- schemes which central Govt has launched to transform the face of India. India is also likely to keep Pakistan engaged in Balochistan and Gilgit–Baltistan, without going the whole hog, which might invite Chinese intervention.

Let us see which way the wind blows.

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