The Uri attack could be an inflection point for India, its relationship with Pakistan and the geopolitical future of south Asia. Or it could be just another deep cut inflicted by a rogue neighbour that enjoys provoking New Delhi secure in the knowledge that India shall remain forever trapped in the delusion of being a "great, responsible power" that in reality can do little beyond spewing empty rhetoric followed by routine pusillanimity.
There is little doubt that whichever outfit may have fronted it, the audacious terrorist strike on Sunday morning at the Indian Army headquarters in Uri — that claimed the lives of 17 soldiers and wounded another 19 — was carried out by the Pakistani deep state.
Initial reports emerging out of New Delhi confirm the suspicion. Army’s director general of military operations (DGMO) Lt Gen Ranbir Singh was quoted as saying by Livemint that "all four killed were foreign terrorists and had some items with them which had Pakistani markings… Slain terrorists belong to Jaish-e-Mohammed Tanzeem (militant group). Four AK-47 rifles and four under-barrel grenade launchers along with a large number of other war-like stores were recovered from them."
While Pakistani hand behind the terrorist attack isn't surprising, the timing of the offensive certainly is. The act of war against Indian state comes at a time when heads of governments are scheduled to meet at the United Nations General Assembly starting on Monday. At first glance, Pakistan's move to sponsor a terrorist attack on Indian soil when its Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is raising Kashmir issue at UN may appear counter-productive. On the contrary, it is a brilliant move.
Islamabad, or more correctly the army apparatus in Rawalpindi, is gambling on the well-considered possibility that the Uri attack will goad India into a knee-jerk response that it may then exploit to its advantage to go with its narrative of "Indian oppression in Kashmir". Given the fact that the West would surely try to defuse the tension between the nuclear neighbours would mean that India would be at the receiving end of global pressure to "show restraint" and "act responsibly". Lectures to such effect were already being administered by United States commentators on Sunday evening.
With Uri and Pathankot, Pakistan has now launched two audacious operations against India in this year alone, apart from the regular infiltration attempts across LoC. These ops are part of its "zero-risk" strategy because the nuclear umbrella and India's self-imposed 'no first-use' doctrine provide Pakistan with a secure cover from which it may cock repeated snooks at New Delhi's superior military might.
So what shall be India's response? The first thing to understand is that India has a wide range of options to retaliate against Pakistan and it need not be caught in the false duality of "restraint" or "war". This is exactly what Pakistan is banking on and we must catch them on the wrong foot.
As a first step, India must call Pakistan's nuclear bluff. For far too long have we allowed a comparatively much smaller, economically weak and a malicious, irresponsible, failed rogue state to hold us to ransom over the nuclear bogey. We have suffered repeated humiliations and debilitating injuries. Pakistan's nuclear gambit revolves around a first-use threat. But the point is, Islamabad won't dare to cross the final threshold because a retaliatory strike from India will simply wipe it away.
Therefore, India must take the strategic initiative away from Pakistan. We cannot afford to indefinitely defend ourselves against a nation that uses terrorism as state policy and has launched an unconventional, proxy war against us. In absence of an effective deterrent, we have opened ourselves to a never-ending assault. Fidayeen strikes like the one at Pathankot or Uri are notoriously difficult to prevent because there shall always remain a weak spot or two which the enemy can exploit. Hence the only way India can prevent future attacks from happening is by launching a coordinated politico-military offensive against a country which only understands the language of violence. History tells us that only when Pakistan gets a bloody nose that it learns to behave.
Hence the Indian action must be concentrated on these areas.
On the military front, take a proactive stance and launch counter-ops to demolish terror-training camps across the LoC using local intelligence inputs. If India doesn't have the courage or conviction to act in self-defence then it will be foolish to expect that the world would respect our viewpoint. But this military option must be part of a larger diplomatic offensive.
India must isolate Pakistan globally, lobby hard to make it a pariah nation and call for debilitating sanctions. India must work to bring Pakistan to its knees. Why would the world sing along with us? They would because in this game of diplomatic offensive, India's biggest weapon is its population and demography. This will be the only language the global powers will understand because, in the world of strategic affairs, decisions are taken based on domestic interests, not lofty ideals. Nobody would support India if we simply throw our arms around and call for sanctions. But if we were to tell the US that arms deals will be off if they don't play ball with us, Uncle Sam would be more favourably disposed.
With Brexit, Britain is ripe for the picking for such pressure because it needs access to the Indian market. And this strategy may pay off, albeit with varying degrees of success, even with European nations. As Marianne Wade, Almir Maljevic write in their book War on Terror, "Since 2002 the European Union has systematically inserted anti-terrorism clauses into trade cooperation and association agreements with third countries".
We may find resonance on economic blockade against Pakistan even from Islamabad-backers China if we leverage Beijing's trade surplus with us. Asia's great power uses Pakistan as a cheap deterrent against India's economic ambitions. With Beijing heavily invested in Gwadar through CPEC, it wouldn't want to risk a destabilisation of borders.
Additionally, we must bypass Pakistan in Saarc, diplomatically isolate them and have a blanket ban on all bilateral interactions. From a display of hard power to flexing its soft-power muscle, layered alternatives are available with India. Let's junk this policy of turning the other cheek when slapped by Pakistan.