Uri terror attack: Three lessons for India from one of the worst strikes this century

The deadliest terror attack on the Indian Army since the Kaluchak tragedy on 14 May, 2002 (taking the lives of 12 civilians and 22 security personnel) took place at Uri on the Black Sunday of 18 September, 2016, in which 17 soldiers were martyred. Of course in the process, all the four attackers, who happened to be suicide bombers or fidayeen, were killed. But the gruesome incident provides three lessons.

First, whatever the critics may say, the fact was that there was no intelligence failure this time about such an attack. In fact, it was widely reported last week that there would be “spectacular terror attacks’ on India’s military bases, though, in the context of the attacks on the Pathankot Airbase in January this year, airbases were under greater alert.

In that sense, if the attacks did take place, then one has to admit that there were serious security lapses in Uri, which had undergone a similar attack in December 2014 when nine soldiers were killed. Uri is 19 km inside the Line of Control (LoC) and 40 km from Baramula, a town that is in the news because of the stone-throwing protestors. As General Raj Mehta, one of our perceptive military veterans, says, it is really worrisome how and where breaches in security occurred to allow unchallenged access to the fidayeen to the base or camp for so many kilometres inside the Indian territory.

 An Army man stand guards near Army Brigade camp during a terror attack in Uri, Jammu and Kashmir on Sunday. PTI

An Army man stand guards near Army Brigade camp during a terror attack in Uri, Jammu and Kashmir on Sunday. PTI

Therefore, the immediate need of the hour is to identify and plug these breaches. Besides, it is quite possible that there are sleeper cells in the area, which the local Police are unable to deal with. The very facts that the terrorists were well-acquainted with the area and its topography, that they knew that the camp at Uri was undergoing a change-over (a new batch of soldiers replacing the existing one), that they attacked the rear of the camp, not its heavily–guarded front facing the LoC, and that they knew about the arrangements inside the camp (their goal was to go up to the officers’ mess and blow it up for deadlier fire. As it is, more soldiers who were sleeping died after being trapped in the fire caused by the explosion, and not by the bullets of the suicide bombers) make it obvious that they were fully trained for the occasion. And for this occasion, the security forces were far from being prepared.

Of course, the Army can say that it is difficult to identify the fidayeen in “our uniforms” in the rear areas early in the morning when it is a fact that soldiers at the camps often use the open space while responding to “the call of nature”. All told, and this is the second lesson of Uri, that ever since the phenomenon of using fidayeen or suicide-terrorists began in Lebanon in 1983, there has been no concrete remedial measures. And that is due to the fact that unlike other terrorists, the fidayeen are indoctrinated for months to lay down their lives (in case of the Islamic terrorists, as was the case in Uri, they are told how after death they will go to the paradise where they will be provided with the choicest virgins to sleep with), not save their lives during a fight. And that is why, they, according to Rand Corporation's study, kill on average four times as many people as other terrorists do.

Besides, earlier suicide terrorists were relatively easier to detect – “they carried bombs in nylon backpacks or duffel bags rather than in belts or vests concealed beneath their clothing, as they do now.” They were mostly unmarried males, uneducated and in the age group of 17 and 23. And attacks were by one suicide terrorist at a time. However, now suicide bombers are middle-aged and young, married and unmarried; some of them have even children. And they attack now in a group, not alone. Their attacks are preceded by long logistical trails.

Therefore, it is a vital necessity now to understand the terrorists' operational environment, know their modus operandi and targeting patterns. There must be concerted efforts to gather intelligence from places where terrorists conceal themselves and seek to establish and hide their infrastructure. Though it is necessarily not valid in anti-terrorism measures in Kashmir (where terrorists come from across the border with all their material and training), it is vital elsewhere to encourage businessmen from whom terrorists purchase bomb-making components (ammonium nitrate fertiliser; pipes, batteries, and wires) to alert the authorities in case of large purchases. The law-enforcement agencies should be aware of places such as schools, colleges and religious institutions where bombers are recruited. This aspect has now become relevant even in Kashmir, where the youth, as the current agitation proves, is being polarised on religious lines and is increasingly getting “Islamised”.

It does not need any elaboration that the Uri-attack, like any standard terrorist attack, was aimed at undermining the public confidence in the ability of the authorities to protect and defend citizens, thereby creating a climate of fear and intimidation amenable to terrorist exploitation. It is obvious that Pakistan is trying its best to exploit the disturbances in the Kashmir valley, undermine the effectiveness of the government led by Mehbooba Mufti, spread fear by contagion, immobilise and subjugate those living under the threats.

But will Pakistan succeed in its game-plan? “No” is the answer, and this is the third lesson of Uri-attack. The crude attack was meant to give a severe psychological blow to the Modi government and isolate it from the rest of India’s top political parties. In fact, every terror incident in a liberal democracy soon gets politicised, with the opposition and opponents of the ruling party taking the government to task. The terrorists’ main job here is to create disunity, demoralise the government of the day and divide the nation on how to tackle the situation. Viewed thus, the Uri attack has failed in its goal. There has been a remarkable solidarity amongst India’s political class; almost all the parties and leaders have responded with responsible remarks ( the singular exception, according to me, is the former Chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir Omar Abdullah, who, in fact, is playing the most notorious role these days in adding fuel to the fire in Kashmir) that Pakistan’s nefarious designs will not succeed, that India will not fall to its knees and that Kashmir shall remain an integral part of India.

Pakistan should realise that the recent history of the world shows political objectives such secession and independence have never been realised through terrorism. In his recent book, Does Terrorism Work? A History, Richard English has shown how Al-Qaida, the Provisional IRA in Northern Ireland, Hamas (it wants the elimination of Israel) and the Basque separatist group ETA in Spain, and a score of others have all failed in realising their objectives. Similarly, Kashmir cannot be separated from India through terrorism or violence.

But then English suggests that if a terrorist campaign has no real chance of achieving its grandiose aims, the State should not overreact to it. This is particularly important for the Modi government to mull over. While the prevention of terrorist atrocities is an essential part of public security, “it is a mistake to exaggerate the threat terrorists pose, beyond the atrocities themselves. It only leads to action that makes the situation worse”. English proves this point by giving the example of the post-9/11 “War on Terror” that witnessed an increase in the number both of terrorist actions and of terrorist-generated fatalities.

Instead, English favours a ‘calm, measured, patient reaction’ that focuses on prevention rather than “wars to end evil”. Though English’s suggestion seems reasonable, then the fact remains that it has to contend with the emotions aroused by terrorist acts and their inflammatory political effect in countries where they occur, given the acute problems that democracies like France, the United States and India face today. Is there a way out?

How about trying out a “calm, measured and patient” strike inside Pakistani territory, eliminating one Hafiz Saeed, the co-founder of Lashkar-e-Taiba or one Masood Azhar, chief of the Jaish-e-Mohammed , the so-called non-sate actors who master the terror campaigns against India and whom Pakistan uses as instruments of its state- policy?

Updated Date: Sep 19, 2016 14:37 PM

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