Home Lessons from the Uri Attack

Lessons from the Uri Attack

The Pakistan Army has been using suicide modules of the Lashkar e Taiba (LeT) and Jaish e Mohammed (JeM) to launch terror attacks against targets in India, especially in J&K, for a long time now. After the Mumbai terror attack of November 2008, there was a five year lull, due to fear of conventional retaliation by the Indian military. Subsequently, the terror attacks re-commenced three years ago in September 2013 with the attack against the police station at Hiranagar and the armoured regiment at Samba in the Jammu region. Significantly, a month earlier, Pakistan had claimed to have commenced induction of tactical nuclear weapons (TNWs) into service.

There is a direct link between the nuclear weapons and the rogue terror policy of the Pakistani state because the former provides cover to the latter, inasmuch as the nuclear weapons are meant to neutralize the threat posed by a possible response based on India’s pro-active conventional military strategy. The terror attacks against military targets are meant to kill as many Indian security personnel and civilians as possible, to ‘bleed’ and demoralize the Indian state, while highlighting the J&K problem internationally. And the J&K problem is important (the jugular vein!) to be kept alive for Pakistan because it justifies the ‘two nation theory’ on the basis of which Pakistan was born and has existed since.

To that extent, there was nothing different in the source, nature and intent of the Uri cross-border terror attack from the numerous other such attacks by Pakistani suicide terror modules, which have been launched repeatedly since 1999 as manifestations of the Pakistani state’s diabolical terror policy.

What makes some of these attacks like Mumbai, Pathankot and Uri stand out is the importance of the target or the higher number of casualties. The aim of these attacks was enunciated by late Pakistani President Zia ul Haq in the mid 1980s, “to bleed India by a thousand cuts”. After each attack, the Pakistani state makes efforts to deny its involvement and concurrently plays down the attack as being of minor, tactical nature, with an obvious intent of thwarting a strategic response by India. And, so far, it has succeeded in its efforts.

Pakistan’s closest mentors, China, Saudi Arabia and the United States, have ensured that it is protected from serious international condemnation on its terror policy, as Pakistan serves their geo-political interests. That is indeed very surprising in the case of the United States because Pakistan, which has been the recipient of approximately 28 billion dollars of American military and economic largesse since 9/11, uses part of this money occasionally to finance attacks by the Taliban against US personnel and interests in Afghanistan!

The problems on the Indian side are many, and these get highlighted each time there is an incident in the nature of ‘Pathankot’ or ‘Uri’.  To that extent, it would not be wrong to conclude that the Indian response to security threats are invariably ‘episodic’ and are highly ad hoc in nature.  So, what are the problems?

Firstly, it is a well accepted fact that, as Indians we lack a strategic culture, attitudinally and organisationally. Strategic think tanks in Delhi are making a huge effort to correct this inadequacy, but a lot more needs to be done.  Secondly, there is no system of formal strategic guidance to the leadership. Drafting of formal documents in the form of a National Security Strategy and National Defence Policy, as is prevalent among many developed countries, would provide the requisite guidance, to a certain extent. Thirdly, there appears to be inadequate access to direct military advice and expertise at the highest levels of governance as well as some related flaws in the current ‘rules of business’. Further, there appears to be little integration between the Defence Ministry and the Armed Forces. And, most importantly, there requires to be serious coordination and optimisation of functioning between the three wings of the Armed Forces. Recommendations on many of these issues were provided by the Naresh Chandra Committee in May 2012. These need to be acted upon expeditiously.

Due to all the above reasons, the Indian responses appear inadequate, most of the time. The actions, if any, end up looking very tactical, eliciting responses exactly that Pakistan wants. Instead, if the responses to past ‘episodes’, over the last many years, had been well coordinated and strategic, employing all instruments of India’s Comprehensive National Power (CNP), Pakistan’s insidious terror policy could possibly have been reversed and its terror infrastructure dismantled.Unfortunately, this has not happened so far.

So what are the lessons from Uri?

  • The Pakistani state must be held wholly and solely responsible for the Uri attack (and other terror attacks of the past). The Pakistani state and Army should not be allowed to get away by denying their involvement in the terror attacks and shifting the blame to non-state actors.  
  • All instruments of Indian CNP, political, diplomatic, economic and military should be used to draw up a well-coordinated strategic response.  
  • Diplomatically, ties with Pakistan must be cut, and simultaneously, highlighting Pakistan’s terror policy and isolating it internationally must be prosecuted.
  • Economically, leverages should be applied to to convince other countries to see the Indian point of view. The ‘most favoured nation’ trade status to Pakistan should be reviewed.
  • Militarily, the cost of terror attacks for Pakistan should be raised to unacceptable levels by exploiting Indian military strengths to target Pakistan’s weak points. Concurrently, own vulnerabilities should be secured.  
  • In terms of operational preparedness, the Indian military should keep its ‘powder dry’ at all times, keeping available always the minimum essential levels of military capability, which enable a speedy response, whether a ‘hot pursuit’ option, a fire assault across the  Line of Control, or initiating the ‘cold start’ strategy.
  • Gaps in guarding of the border and Line of Control must be removed, by optimizing the existing system of border fence, patrols, ambushes, guard dogs and humint, to make it foolproof in all aspects and areas.      
  • Defence establishments should be effectively and efficiently secured. All SOPs in this regard must be implemented scrupulously. All military units in J&K must be provided hardened, technology based, multi layered security infrastructure. Security rehearsals must be conducted regularly and audits made more stringent.  
  • Politically, willingness to review commitment to the Indus Water Treaty, to the point of being willing to withdraw from the treaty if Pakistan does not withdraw from its terror policy, should be indicated.
  • Internally, efforts to resolve the Kashmir issue politically by reaching out to the people should be made. Initiatives to mainstream the Kashmiri youth must be given fresh impetus. Efforts must be made to provide justice and restore harmony among all communities in J&K. In the long term, efforts must be made to de-radicalise sections among the Kashmiri people and restore traditional ‘Kashmiriyat’ to the Valley.  
  • The Indian state must deal directly with terrorist masterminds like Hafiz Sayeed, Masood Azhar, Zaki ur Rehman Lakhvi, Syed Salahadin and their likes, who have been involved with killing of Indians, and bring them to justice under international law.  Towards that end, the Special Forces Command must be raised at the earliest.
  • And finally, countries which support terrorism, or come in the way of sanctioning terrorist leaders and groups, must be named and shamed appropriately, by concerted diplomatic efforts.

In sum, it is high time all agencies formulate and implement a clear and focused policy to put a stop to Pakistan’s terror policy once and for all. Any vacillation in the Indian resolve on this account would condemn the country to repeated assaults and resultant casualties in the future too. At the same time, efforts must also be made to resolve the latest unrest in Kashmir and put this episode behind, before it gets complicated any further.


The Author is former Vice Chief of Army Staff. Views expressed are personal.

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Lt Gen Philip Campose

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