Indian army’s anger over Kashmir killings

  • Published
An Indian army soldier looks towards the site of a gun battle between Indian army soldiers and rebels inside an army brigade headquarters near the border with Pakistan, known as the Line of Control, in Uri. Taken on 18 September 2016.Image source, AFP
Image caption,
The attack hit an Indian army brigade headquarters near the so-called Line of Control

There are growing demands from India's military for a robust riposte to Pakistan, after Sunday's dawn attack by four gunmen which saw 17 soldiers killed at the army's Uri cantonment in Indian-administered Kashmir.

"I assure the nation that those behind this despicable attack will not go unpunished," Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi declared just hours after the strike.

Mr Modi did not name Pakistan, but his response to the attack has boosted those who would like to see a tactical comeback by the Indian army against Pakistan's military, which is being blamed by senior leaders in Delhi for helping launch the attack.

Pakistan has denied such allegations, dismissing it as a knee-jerk response by India and no group has said it carried out the killings.

Vindicating the 'honour' of the army - with force

But the army is itching to respond to the Uri attack, seeking to kill more than the 17 soldiers it lost, to vindicate its "izzat", or honour, in a move guaranteed to escalate tension between the nuclear-armed neighbours.

Image source, EPA
Image caption,
Attackers stormed the base with guns and grenades before dawn

Defence planners in Delhi have long believed, erroneously, that although the Pakistani army controls the nuclear button, India can successfully execute swift punitive strikes against Pakistan without crossing the nuclear threshold. That is without provoking a nuclear strike from the other side.

Indian security officials are of the view that the nuclear escalatory ladder provides 'ample opportunity' for Delhi to undertake 'swift' military strikes for tactical and political gain, by which time the international community would intervene to prevent an all-out nuclear exchange.

But this method of action is predicated to speedy action, which almost 24 hours after Sunday's attack, appears distant.

The recent unrest in Kashmir explained

Meanwhile, security insiders are of the view that the army's "aggressive school" is being encouraged by Mr Modi and National Security Adviser Ajit Doval's muscular approach in dealing with Pakistan - but that this approach is not mindful of the broader potential consequences.

The 'strike now' school of thought

"It's time we snatched the tactical advantage away from Pakistan by countering such an attack and showed them what the Indian army is capable of doing," said military analyst, retired Lieutenant General Vijay Kapoor.

"We have kept our peace for too long and cannot allow terrorist proxies run by the Pakistan army to prevail time and again by attacking us," he added.

Image source, @narendramodi
Image caption,
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi condemned the attacks on Twitter

"The reaction to the Uri attack must be swift," said former army deputy chief of staff Lt Gen Raj Kadiyan.

"This sort of situation in which we keep getting hit cannot go on indefinitely."

Senior army officers, however, are agreed that a calculated response at a time and place of India's choosing should be dramatic and in direct proportion to the publicity it would generate to appease public and official sentiment over the Uri strike.

They would prefer to duplicate the special forces raid conducted against two Naga insurgent camps deep inside Myanmar in June 2015, to avenge the killing of 18 soldiers whose convoy was ambushed in Manipur's Chandel district a few days earlier.

At the time, the army, in connivance with the federal security establishment, even encouraged some special forces personnel on the raid to give media interviews, providing classified operational details in an attempt to vindicate the army's izzat.

Image source, Reuters
Image caption,
Recent killings in Kashmir have prompted protests against Indian rule

But, as has been pointed out innumerable times since then, such an option is simply not possible with regard to Pakistan.

Besides, military experts argue that any retaliation to the Uri attack would need to be quick, as diplomatic pressure from countries like the US were already kicking in to preclude such an option, leaving little time to manoeuvre or possibilities to pursue.

The 'fire across the line' option for India

Options too are circumscribed.

The most obvious one is selective firing across the Line of Control (LoC), the de facto border, but that would in effect mean ending the November 2003 bilateral ceasefire agreement.

The second and possibly only other prospect would be a "selective fire assault" across the LoC near Uri, through which the militants infiltrated, to strike at a Pakistani forward base or headquarters. That has, no doubt, been gamed earlier.

But for this to succeed time would be of the essence, as counter-measures would already be in place on the Pakistani side, so many feel it would already be too late for any such attempt.

Image source, AP
Image caption,
The attack has enraged many in India, who claim Pakistan had a hand in it

The option to just create diplomatic noise

But other analysts and military officers differ.

They believe that despite severe provocation, India, intimidated by Pakistan's trigger-happy nuclear tsars, is incapable of responding militarily to Islamabad, seeking instead the largely ineffective diplomatic and political route to try and chastise it.

"Over decades, including during the Kargil war, India has always looked to the US and other countries to discipline Pakistan, as there is little it is capable of doing itself," said former Major Gen Sheru Thapliyal. Robust, meaningful reaction is certainly not an option it can pursue, he added.

The attack comes just ahead of the UN session in New York in which Pakistan aims to highlight atrocities it alleges have been committed by the Indian security forces in Indian-administered Kashmir.

It recently dispatched 22 of its senior leaders and officials across the world to highlight the Kashmir situation.

India, for its part plans to retaliate by raising human rights issues in Pakistan's restive Balochistan province promising a diplomatic stand-off between the neighbours.

But what about internal security in the first place?

In the meantime, the din of the militant attack has somewhat masked the lax security in the Uri cantonment along the LoC, that enabled the strike.

Image source, AP
Image caption,
The entire Kashmir Valley is under curfew

An inquiry has been launched into it, and will no doubt apportion responsibility and punish those responsible, but many senior officers believe the army is too deeply deployed on internal security operations to remain constantly alert.

This is reminiscent of the sloppiness in security that resulted in the ambush of an army convoy in Manipur last year.

Little, it seems, has been learned.