Army reserves right to respond to Uri strike, but struggles to find options - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Monday 19 September 2016

Army reserves right to respond to Uri strike, but struggles to find options

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 20th Sept 16

The Indian Army has served notice to Pakistan, reserving the right to respond to the terrorist strike on an army camp in Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) on Sunday, in which the casualty count increased to 18 with the death of a wounded soldier in hospital today. In addition, 29 soldiers were injured.

On Monday, the army’s director general of military operations, (DGMO), Lieutenant General Ranbir Singh warned: “The Indian Army has displayed considerable restraint while handling the terrorist situation both along the Line of Control and in the hinterland. However, we have the desired capability to respond to such blatant acts of aggression and violence as deemed appropriate by us. We reserve the right to respond to any act of the adversary at a time and place of own choosing (sic).”

Yesterday, after a terrorist fidayeen (suicide) squad struck an army camp near Uri, 5 kilometres from the Line of Control (LoC), Prime Minister (PM) Narendra Modi had promised: “I assure the nation that those behind this despicable attack will not go unpunished.”

The army announced yesterday that the attackers were from the Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) jihadi group. It now emerges that the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) masterminded the strike, not the JeM.

Today, after the PM and his security planners --- including Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar, National Security Advisor Ajit Doval, key cabinet ministers, the army, navy and air force chiefs and the heads of intelligence agencies --- met on Monday to weigh revenge against the perpetrators of the attack, it became clear that Mr Modi is short of retaliatory options.

The leaders could only agree on a diplomatic plan to expose Pakistan in international forums as a state that supports terrorism --- something that New Delhi has already been doing. This, however, would fail to placate inflamed Indian opinion; with critics already asking on social media how diplomatically isolating Pakistan punishes those behind the Uri attack.

Essentially, the government’s repeated promises to respond harshly to Pakistani provocation have exposed it to criticism if it acts moderately.

In November 2008, in the aftermath of the 26/11 Mumbai terror attack, the United Progressive Alliance government had ruled out a military response after the three service chiefs were unable to offer viable response options. Eight years later, a new PM has discovered there are still no plans to adequately punish Pakistan for unacceptable provocations.

Scholars of South Asian security like Shashank Joshi and Walter Ladwig have earlier argued that any Indian plan that would adequately punish Pakistan, would also cross the Red Line of Pakistan’s nuclear threshold.

Top Indian planners, including National Security Advisor Doval and the PM himself, are known to admire Israel’s tough response to cross-border terrorism. However, New Delhi’s situation is far more complex than Tel Aviv’s, which enjoys preponderant military superiority over all its neighbours. In contrast, India faces a cross-border terrorism challenge from the Pakistani military, which Credit Suisse has ranked the eleventh-most powerful in the world, which means Pakistan is capable of protecting its territory and airspace. Further, Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal is on level with India’s.

For these reasons Doval, who is masterminding a tough response against a civilian uprising in Kashmir, is finding Pakistan rather a tougher nut to crack.

There is also a shortfall of military expertise at the topmost planning levels. With Doval and Foreign Secretary S Jaishankar having taken control of security and foreign policy, the army, navy and air force chiefs have --- like many of their predecessors --- found themselves on the sidelines in a subordinate role.

Even Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar is outside the inner coterie, causing him to spend an unusual amount of time nurturing a political constituency in Goa, where he was chief minister before moving to New Delhi. In September, he has spent no more than a week in Delhi.

With the military and the defence ministry distanced from the planning loop, there are no clear contingency plans for retaliation. True, the military has a list of targets in Pakistan, strategic as well as tactical, that can be struck. But there has been no inter-agency planning, where the ministries of external affairs, home, defence and the national security council have evaluated the strike options, the escalation dynamics caused by inevitable Pakistani retaliation, nuclear crisis management, and the diplomatic handling of the international community, to assuage fears of a full-blown conflagration between two nuclear armed states.

Already, planners are wrestling with the question of responding to the Uri attack without falling into the Pakistan trap of “internationalising” the Kashmir dispute.

One option for the military is to activate the LoC, attacking Pakistani posts with artillery and mortars. The army can inflict disproportionate punishment on the Pakistan army. Yet, Indian soldiers will die and be wounded in Pakistani retaliation. Meanwhile, India’s security calculus in J&K will become more complicated, making internal security a larger problem.

Similarly, air strikes on terrorist camps across the LoC, or across the international India-Pakistan boundary, would invite retaliation from Pakistan. This could unleash an escalatory spiral that would take both sides towards war --- and the inevitable international pressure to de-escalate.

“Contingency plans for retaliation are made during peace, fine-tuned through an inter-agency process, and kept ready for use in a crisis. The Indian security establishment has failed to do that”, says a former army commander.


  1. "reserves the right to --' - spoken (by a fierce looking DGMO, Oh God) like a lawyer, isn't it! 4 men of Pak do not struggle to find options to harm India, only because they were prepared to die, not just lecture. Maybe the well known Indian brahamastras of tweeting and dossiering will help. More at

  2. Dear Sir, the concluding paragraph of your column wherein you have quoted a former Army commander sums up the situation succinctly.

    The PM has assured the nation that the perpetrators of the Uri attack will not go unpunished. Brave words! but do they carry conviction? Despite the well meaning bravado, one seriously doubts whether we have the wherewithal to punish the Pakistani Deep State, to bring it to its knees!

    It hurts to see the smug arrogance of General Raheel Sharif, to hear the shrill ranting of their Defence Minister who threatens to unleash their nuclear arsenal on India. Does this worthy even remotely visualise the aftermath of a nuclear weapons exchange? But that is besides the point, one can associate sanity and rational behaviour with Pakistani ministers at their own peril!

    The truth is unpalatable and blatant- our security establishment DOES NOT have any semblance of a plan or the capabilities to really hurt Pakistan, and they know it! We can only hide our helplessness under the garb of "strategic restraint" and claim the high moral ground.

    Some of the options being bandied about for retribution like shelling the camps across the LOC using artillery, precision air strikes etc. will only destroy some 'heads' of this Pakistani jihadi Hydra. These serpents bred by the Pakistani establishment are expendable. A few strikes here and there will kill them but others will take their place and inflict more Uris on us, unless the Pakistani State is crippled and destroyed.

    What is needed first is the WILL to punish Pakistan, to reduce it to a condition where it will dare not raise its head against us, whatever the costs!

  3. Empty vessels make more noise

  4. Army will strike back...that is a certainity...but it will be away from the glare of the media and doubting they said it will at a place and time of their choosing with the element of surprise with us...make no mistake about it..retribution is coming....both diplomatically and militarily

  5. Well said, Alok.

    As Ajai says: 2001, no plan. 2008. no plan. 2016, no plan There is a pattern here.

    The truth is, our Pakistan policy is set by Washington. (I am quite pro-American, and I've lived in the US for 37-years of my life, so this is not a political statement.

    Also to note: 1948 - UK, US pressure us to negotiate. 1965 - US, UK, USSR pressure us to ceasefire. 1971 - US, USSR force us to halt war with 2/3rds objectives not achieved, 1999 US pressures us not to retaliate.

  6. Army has let loose there guard and situation in 1971 and 2016 not alike....military leadership is not as aware and clear as that in 1971....that confidence in military leadership would not have waited for orders from govt....yes sir it will be done will lead to disaster with a nuclear Pakistan.....

  7. > Similarly, air strikes on terrorist camps across the LoC, or across the international India-Pakistan boundary, would invite retaliation from Pakistan.

    If they didnt invite retaliation in Kargil, why would they invite retaliation now?

  8. Dear Editor,

    Are we not Over complicating things ? What we need is a good tactical level response; complete with Visuals (evidence) of death and destruction of Terrorists and their infrastructure OR perhaps even a single successful assassination of a high profile terror leader to address the righteous rage of general public for the time being.

    We can Back it up by a National Plan to equip the military to the teeth by 2020.

    Of course there will be a tit for tat from Pakistan for such actions. Why are we so worried about escalation ? And why do we have so much faith in Pakistan's stated Nuclear threshold ? Let see if they have the nuts to carry out the threat. Pak generals have Kids too so do their subordinate officers and they know that India is a stickler for the Geneva convention, so the chances of surrender and assimilation is far brighter than wiping ones own kids out.

    When India's public is ready to bathe in blood, why are the leaders of the country worrying about a few air strikes from Pak?

    Even Israel gets hit by the occasional rocket barrage, many of its bordering cities live in constant fear of a rocket attack because Israel conducts retaliatory missions.

    USA got 9/11 because of its involvement in Op Desert storm . if you remember, OBL's demand was for US troops to get out of Saudi Arabia.

    Russia suffered horrible terror attacks which saw its kids and women being killed because of Chechnyan conflict.

    France is facing terror attacks because of its operations in Mali against Boko Haram.
    There is no military action which will be retribution free. Escalation is natural to conflict.

    So if Our Government is thinking that it wants military options that will have no retribution, then the Service Chiefs must advise the Polity of what real life is.

    The Public is Ok with Escalation. Perhaps we might never be a super power but we will ensure that Pakistan is never a country again.

  9. Sad to say, Ajay Shukla inspite of being ex-army is unable to hide contempt and hate for best govt India ever had.....

  10. Dear Shuklaji,

    Indian Army has many options but in most of those there area large numbers of LOBs ... they were, they are and shall remain LOBs left out to fight in the courts. What is the use of guzzling down million litres of gasoline just for nothing ??

    It is surprising that even amongst civilian ranks, the number of LOBs is quite a large who include vary many journalists' besides many bureaucrats and so called intellectuals who are organised around as Commission salivating Squads.... the peaceniks of Lahore Biryani lovers and Samosa munchers ...

  11. NSR says ---

    India said it too many times that it will give a befitting response and it only did once by pounding Pakistani positions relentlessly until they sued for peace...

    Why does India even talk about response...they need to act like Israel and anoint swift retribution ...

    Some ideas from me ---

    India has a legal and moral right to do so....

    India must not make a wider war at all...

    It must only strike terrorist Pakistani posts from where the terrorists are infiltrating frequently, terrorist training camps, LeT headquarters in Muridke, Hum Salahuddin headquarters in Muzzfarnagar, JeM Azhar in Bawalpur, etc....

    But all those places must be empty by now...

    After response, then wait and see for Pakistani response...

    If Pakistan spreads the response, then be prepared to hit back hard and fast with no holds barred until Pakistan sues for peace as it did recently...

    If the war spreads, then India must fight until it occupies all the major mountains and passes, especially Haj Pir pass...
    Do not give up any land, mountains, passes, etc captured this time...

    War is not for the faint hearted or for the chest thumpers...
    It is real human suffering...

    So be prepared to go the length...

    God bless must definitely call the Nuclear bluff of put a stop this never ending terrorism...

  12. Army has let loose there guard and situation in 1971 and 2016 not alike....military leadership is not as aware and clear as that in 1971....that confidence in military leadership would not have waited for orders from govt....yes sir it will be done will lead to disaster with a nuclear Pakistan.....

  13. Exclusive: Uri Avenged As Spl Forces Cross LoC, Kill 20 TerroristsSources told The Quint that the operation happened during the intervening hours of 20 September and 21 September.: probably you serving journalist in your paltan also, you don't know your own army, it's character, it's resolve, it's STEEL

  14. I strongly believe this is Indians last chance to destroy Pakistani nuclear capability , destroy strategic oil reserves and infrastructure and without sending a single person across the line of control . Pakistan would be very angry but with huge losses in infrastructure and naval blockade and destruction of the bridges and crucial structures on China Pakistan road link would totally isolate the Pakistani army. They would not be in a position to retaliate. Nuclear option for Pakistan would not be welcomed by any country and that would lead to total destruction of Pakistan. This is the best oppertunity to destroy nuclear capability , the whole world would welcome it and that would put so much of finencial burden and years of work to build it back and Pakistan army would be starved of funds and to add to that use fuel air bombs to destroy opium fields so that Pakistani army looses its parallel economy.give one blow and that's it and Pakistani army would be very angry and if they attack they would slaughtered by well trenches Indian army.they would do more infiltration attempts but are they showing any mercy and so anticipate and act decisively.


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