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The Uri Outrage

The attack at Uri on 18 Sep 2016 which left 18 jawans killed and 19 injured was an outrage. The outrage generated should rival that which was generated post the attack on an army convoy at Manipur in Jun 2015 in which 18 jawans were killed and 11 injured. In that case the troops were part of a unit moving out after a field tenure, in this case the bulk of the casualties were of an advance party of a unit moving in to a field area. However, the impact that the attack at Uri generated in terms of nationwide debate and opprobrium is much more. This is no surprise because while the casualties in Chandel district of Manipur were in course of fighting an insurgency, those at Uri were sustained in a proxy war where the hatred is visceral. That Pakistan is pursuing a proxy war in Kashmir is an unambiguous fact. If that is a fact then why should we express indignation at the attacks launched upon our men in uniform. We should absorb that blow with professional stoicism and reply to it with an objective assessment of consequences.

The retaliatory reaction in the Manipur case could be more unconstrained as the reaction could neither invite international intervention/pressure, nor was the insurgent attack it sought to punish, supported by the country (Myanmar) in which the attackers had sanctuary/bases.

Uri is a different story. It happened after two months of severe Pakistan-instigated unrest in the Valley. A coordinated response to the unrest has been hampered because of the nature of politics in the Valley, the nature of the protests there which so far have resulted in 81 civilian deaths and political one-upmanship attempts by the opposition. We will not talk of Burhan Wani as that is just another name. If he had not been used as a catalyst, someone else would have been used.

The issue is that such ‘terrorist’ attacks which occur with monotonous regularity, whether in J&K or out of it have assumed a familiar path. National indignation, statements condemning the terrorist attack, hawks advocating drastic military action, doves appealing to give peace a chance and statements saying that we have proof that the attack was supported by the Pakistani state or that we are investigating whether it was supported by the Pakistani army/terrorist groups/state. Umpteen times we have conclusive proof that such attacks have originated from Pakistan. Can there be bigger proof than Ajmal Kasab? But if such proof is going to get us no benefits because Pakistan negates that by saying that it has no control over the unknown people operating from its soil who are motivated by the Indian ‘atrocities’ in Kashmir, why should we even bother to get proof?

It is well known by those who have served in operational areas where a warlike situation exists that the spells of the greatest vulnerability are either at first light or at last light (ie early morning or late evening). In the first case the attacker will have the cover of darkness to sneak upto the target and then launch his attack. This is especially so when the attack is of the nature of a suicide (Fidayeen) attack because the attacker does not worry about being ‘daylighted’ which makes his escape well nigh impossible. A last light attack will be preferred by those who are already in hides near the target and would also want to escape in the aftermath of the confusion of the attack. Anywhere close to the Line of Control (LoC) or International Border (IB), say within two hours walking distance from the LoC/IB, a first light attack has a very high probability. The attackers will sneak across the border between 10 PM and 2 AM and then reach their targets by first light. This is a truism that should be well known to all commanders from the lowest to the highest if they have intimate knowledge and experience about the dynamics of the terrorist/militant threat in J&K/whatever area they are in.

Intelligence and knowledge of the enemy gives an edge to any army to win the battle. It is good to know your enemy and even give him professional respect where he deserves it. It enables you to be better prepared.

This article makes the following points :

  • No attack on uniformed forces especially the army should be called a ‘terrorist attack’. In J&K or the North-East it is war. A terrorist is someone who targets unarmed civilians regardless of they being men, women or children with an aim to drive a message to other civilians to fall in line, demoralise men in uniform by targeting their families or sap the will of a nation. An attack on the armed forces of the union is WAR. It should be prosecuted as such. Wars are fought by giving directions to the armed forces and leaving the execution to them.
  • The Srilankan Army has the distinction of being among the few armed forces which have wiped out an insurgency and one of the most dreaded terrorist organisations the world has seen. They did it by going hammer and tongs after the LTTE, without regard to world opinion or the platitudes of humanitarian NGOs. They waged war on the LTTE. There was great suffering to the people; but in the final analysis this is what has saved that country prolonged misery and even its existence as a unified island entity. We need to work towards a conclusion in Kashmir with the same united, single minded devotion.
  • We cannot have an army of generalists. We must have an army of area specialists. Our country and areas of operations are too diverse to believe that one size fits all. When listening to or reading the writings of defence analysts some have more knowledge/eloquence and logic than others to comment upon a given situation. If Lt Gen SA Hasnain (Retd) appears to speak with a clear grasp of the situation in Kashmir, the extent of the Pakistani hand and the nuances of the militancy there, it is because he commanded a Brigade in the Kashmir Valley which is under a Division (in the Kashmir Valley) which he later commanded, which is under a Corps (in the Kashmir Valley) which he ultimately commanded. If age had been in his favour and if he could have commanded Northern Command he would have had more time, resources and authority for greater salutary impact on the militancy in Kashmir because he could understand the militancy there in all its dimensions. In our army this is a very rare exception.

Calling the attack at Uri ‘cowardly’ is correct from a civilian perspective. However, viewing it as the same by the army is in ‘bad faith’. We would start believing that statement and consequently be not properly prepared to defeat our enemy. As defined by the French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre ‘bad faith’ is lying to oneself, which can be to the point of self-deception. A suicide attack on civilians is cowardly and is terrorism. On the army it is a tactic of war. In either case the perpetrator is not a coward. So we should be outraged by the Uri attack, but with professional calmness of purpose.

The author is a former Director-General Perspective Planning of the Indian Army. Views expressed are personal.


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Ghanshyam Katoch

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