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The implications of the Uri attack

September 18, 2016 17:03 IST

'Knee jerk reactions are the worst in this kind of conflict situation.'
'The responses have to be thought through for strategic advantage rather than tactical satisfaction and ego,' says Lieutenant General Syed Ata Hasnain (retd), former commander of the Uri-based Kalapahar Brigade.

Smoke rises from the Uri Brigade camp during the September 18, 2016 terror attack. Photograph: Umar Ganie

IMAGE: Smoke rises from the Uri Brigade camp during the September 18, 2016 terror attack. Photograph: Umar Ganie

 

An attack of a suicidal nature, sponsored and launched from across the LoC was expected any time before the Pakistan prime minister's speech at the UN General Assembly. Pakistan's Deep State did not disappoint.

That it would cause such a major loss to the Indian Army was probably not expected even by them. The situation was building up to this for a couple of reasons and the target being the Uri garrison had also occurred to the Indian Army’s command channels.

How did the so-called fidayeen (actually sneak attackers) succeed and what can we expect now?

All this needs a brief analysis even as the embers of the burnt barracks in the Uri garrison are cooling. This brigade, the Kalapahar Brigade, has been commanded by me and much more illustrious commanders in the past. I therefore write with the experience and ground knowledge.

Pakistan has been sensing a defeat of its Kashmir strategy for some years with its inability to beat the vigilance of the Indian Army along the LoC.

The Indian Army's counter infiltration posture has progressively succeeded in ensuring that the strength of terrorists in the hinterland has reduced to less than 300.

Pakistan and its Deep State have been constantly seeking alternative ways of keeping the J&K campaign alive even in the face of the reduced terrorist presence.

Giving fillip to local militancy has been one of the ways and using non-military methods such as finance, drugs and ideology has been part of the strategy.

However, the killing of Burhan Wani and the subsequent street agitation presented a contingency to enhance turbulence, keep the security forces engaged and increase alienation manifold.

The Deep State looks upon the 70-day turbulence as an opportunity to regain the initiative by assisting the separatists and the street demonstrators.

By attempting a few terrorist attacks on convoys a small part of the intent was demonstrated; bigger attacks in the hinterland are not possible, given the kind of terrorist strength.

It perceived that it would meet the need if the installations in the vicinity of the LoC are attacked because it would be possible without risking deep infiltration and the impact would be as spectacular; spurring the agitators to continue their murderous agitation.

It had also resorted to following this strategy almost 18 months ago with attacks in Tangdhar. The Uri valley had also been the target of an attack in end 2014. An attempted terror attack on the Poonch Brigade HQ was foiled only recently with some loss.

The Uri garrison appeared a natural target for a similar attempt.

A soldier takes position during an encounter with terrorists at the Uri army camp, December 2014. Photograph: Umar Ganie

IMAGE: A soldier takes position during an encounter with terrorists at the Uri army camp, December 2014. Photograph: Umar Ganie

 

The Uri garrison is one of the Indian Army's oldest locations in Kashmir. The war of 1947 began here with the pillage of Uri by the Kabalis before they proceeded to Baramullah.

The garrison also houses the rear elements of the units deployed on the LoC. These are usually leave parties, logistics providers, heavy baggage and sentries for its security besides the vehicle fleet.

The garrison is located right next to Uri town, a comparatively friendly town which has escaped the stone throwing menace in the past and also this time.

The population is largely Pahari and Gujjar and its inclination is not towards Pakistan. There has been no resident militancy in the Jhelum valley almost right through the last 27 years; it’s mostly been transitory militancy.

This means that infiltration has been the major threat here with the presence of a large number of guides from these communities who do their job for a price and not for ideological reasons. The infiltrated terrorists then make their way to Baramullah, Rafiabad and Sopore.

Yet, the Uri garrison is also one of the easier military installations that can be targeted because there is no security wall and the highway to Muzaffarabad passes right through the centre of the garrison.

The strength inside is usually softer elements with frontline troops all deployed at the LoC. The approach from the south is a mere six km from the LoC and the LoC fence needs to be crossed by the terrorists; in this case it was obviously breached somewhere from this direction.

There are all kinds of responses on social media, calling for retribution and early action by the army. It does not work that way.

Knee jerk reactions are the worst in this kind of conflict situation which is hybrid in nature. The cause-effect needs greater analysis for a suitable response at the right time.

This is a campaign being fought and campaigns are not fought by one off responses to losses. The responses have to be thought through for relative strategic advantage rather than tactical satisfaction and ego.

The government and the army would obviously be contemplating that and the prime Mminister has done well in giving his mind early.

Direct action is good for public solace, but it is always the indirect method which has greater impact.

No doubt an army as experienced as the Indian Army is not going to sit on its haunches without a response.

The range of options will all be under analysis and the most suitable one will be chosen both by the army and the political leadership in due course.

Clearly Pakistan, which has been carefully calibrating the interference in Kashmir for all these years and attempting to keep it below the threshold of India’s tolerance, may have just crossed that line, the consequences of which it will have to bear.

Lieutenant General Syed Ata Hasnain (retd), former GOC of the Srinagar-based 15 Corps, is now associated with the Vivekanand International Foundation and the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies.

Lieutenant General Syed Ata Hasnain (retd)
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