On September 18, 2016, four terrorists belonging to the Pakistani jihadi group Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) struck at an Indian Army camp in Uri. The resultant impact of the Uri incident, which led to the death of 19 army soldiers hardened the government’s resolve to move beyond standard reactions.
The military options available for counter terror strikes has been analysed threadbare over the years. When viewed along the escalatory ladder, these included shallow strikes across the LoC against terrorist launch pads, precision long range missile strikes against terror camps, deep Special Forces strikes against terrorist camps, surgical strikes to eliminate terrorist leaders, and neutralisation of Pakistan Army positions along the LoC directly involved in the launch of terrorists into India. The innovation in executing the counter punch was, therefore, more likely to come in terms of the time and place of its delivery. The government decided to undertake a shallow surgical strike along the LoC. This clearly implied that the Army intended to target terrorist launch pads, which are typically located between 500 metres and a couple of kilometres along the LoC inside Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK).
Impacts and Implications of the Surgical Strikes
- By limiting the strike to terrorist launch pads, India maintained the requisite balance between resolve to punish the perpetrators of terrorism and keeping a low military threshold as would be expected from a reasonable state.
- A large number of friendly foreign countries as well as the media were informed about the operation. This saw the government and the army take ownership of the operation and its intended consequences.
- The government called for cooperation from the Pakistan to fulfil its international obligations to fight terrorism, as has been promised by Islamabad on more than one occasion.
International Responses to Uri and India’s Surgical Strikes
- This was the first operation conducted by the Army across a wide frontage of well over 100 kilometres at multiple terrorist targets along the LoC.
- By taking ownership of the strike, India snatched the initiative from Pakistan, which had continued its provocations through terrorist attacks at regular intervals.
- The Army raised the cost of using terrorism as an instrument of state policy by a couple of notches.
- The Pakistani narrative about the absence of India-targeting terrorists on its soil stood exposed for the world to see.
- The strikes proved to be an important element for maintaining the morale of the people of India and the armed forces.
- The strike reinforced the credibility of the government and displayed its resolve, even as justified restraint and maturity was on display.
- India called into question the Pakistani belief that it would not react to terrorist provocations because of the fear of escalation. Along with this, the army also crossed the laxman rekha that had for long constrained its ability to hit terrorists in their own backyard.
- India was then quick to rally international support from the US, UK, and France, which condemned the Uri attack, and also highlighted Pakistan’s atrocities in Balochistan, which led the European Union to respond with a threat of punitive economic sanctions if Islamabad did not come clean on human rights violations.
- Countries such as Germany, Japan, and South Korea also issued statements condemning the incident and expressed support for India’s stand on countering terrorism globally.
- Key West Asian countries and members of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) also issued statements condemning the Uri terrorist attack.
- China’s reaction to the strikes came two days after Pakistan dispatched two special envoys on Kashmir to Beijing to drum up support for its position. It called on all relevant parties to exercise restraint and refrain from actions that would escalate tension. Co-incidentally, China also continued with its decision to extend its technical "hold" on a UN resolution to ban the Jaish-e-Mohammed leader Masood Azhar. The resolution to ban him was co-sponsored by the US, UK, France and India, with 14 other countries acquiescing. China was the only one to block it with a technical hold.
- Russia came out strongly in support of Indian action saying Moscow stood for “decisive struggle against terrorism in all its manifestations.”
- Within South Asia, India found support from all its other neighbours, after its decision to boycott the SAARC summit.
The operation stood out particularly for the clarity with which information about the surgical strike was presented in the public domain. The narrative was precise, had clarity of purpose, and showed the unity of response in the military, political and diplomatic wings of the government.