NEW DELHI: “PM clears effective reponse, Army says it’s ready and willing to hit back” read media headlines.Limited strike options according to the media again, are air-strikes on terror camps, raids by Special Forces, strikes BrahMos missiles and Smerch rockets, and increased artillery and heavy weapons cross-border fire.

The media reports multiple options are on table though the question remains when and where. The Director General of Military Operations has said, “We have the desired capacity to respond to such blaatant acts of aggression. We reserve the right to respond to any act of the adversary at a time and place of our choosing.” A group of officers is likely to examine the pros and cons of each possible course of action before the Prime Minister and the Cabinet Committee on Security decides on how exactly to hit back at Pakistan, as reported to the media. This is being very systematic indeed.

But just one question – did we not go through this very exercise after the Parliament attack and numerous other Pakistani sponsored attacks?

If the world loves our Bollywood, it can actually learn much more from our enterprising media. Ever heard response options being debated openly on TV by a country hit by terror – US, France, Britain, Australia, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Thailand, you name them? For that matter is there a debate in Pakistan on what options of terrorist attacks they have to extract the most mileage? Even the Kashmiri separatists on the ISI payroll do not discuss in public what are their future plans in keeping the Valley churning.

On numerous occasions in the past Union Ministers have given statements post terror attacks that a “free hand” has been given to the security forces to deal with terrorists. One news headline read on September 19, “Army to turn on heat, ask government to ‘consider’ cross-border strikes”. One is reminded of the time when Pakistan first started artillery bombardment in the Kupwara sector in early 1989-1990. The orders for retaliation by artillery were that specific sanction from Udhampur and beyond were needed and every time when sanctioned, the number of rounds that could be fired was specified. Whether this was restriction by the government or by the Army itself can be a matter of conjecture but the Pakistanis used to fire artillery and shouted across the Neelam River “ask your government when you can fire back” and were merrily inside their bunkers by the time retaliation came.

We may have improved by way of artillery retaliation but the overall mentality doesn’t seem to have changed much.

Point at issue here is that all this chatter and cackle was avoidable if we had chosen our options after the Gurdaspur, Patahnkot, Pampore attacks, had them in place and executed it / them without any fanfare. That would have had a positive effect on Pakistan.

How we handled the LTTE and then Sri Lanka situation is debatable but it is only when Rajiv Gandhi announced in the Parliament that the IAF had dropped aid to besieged Tamils in Sri Lanka that the nation became aware of what had happened.

The proclamations of we will respond at the time and place of our choosing have been repeated umpteen times, don’t impress and there may be more attacks before you get to choose the when and where. It would be better to act first and publicize later. There are plenty options that don’t start “war” – war which the weak hearted are mortally scared about.

Terrorist outfits in Pakistan are an extension of its military. Most terror training camps are either adjacent to military posts or merged with military establishments. So Pakistan says that any attack will be construed as an attack on their military, will be taken as an act of war, and because of this it will respond.

But what about India – were the Pakistani sponsored attacks on military establishments in Kaluchak, Tanda, Basoli, Samba, Pathankot, Uri not acts of war? Gearing up perimeter security, surveillance and vigilance is all fine but Pakistan is not going to stop till hit in her own territory. Are we going to remain dumbstruck also when Pakistan raises the levels further, employing terrorists to shoot down our aircraft or use CBRN weapons of mass disturbance while Pakistan maintains there is no actionable intelligence against it, or says it is all being done by our external intelligence agencies to deflect from the Kashmir issue?

The media indicates that there is not much thought towards ‘downgrading’ even the diplomatic and economic ties, so what message are we sending across? What about cancelling the MFN status of Pakistan and talking with Afghanistan about the option of both countries stopping trade with Pakistan?

As for military options, it is surprising that only the hard options appear to be under discussion including cross-border raids by Special Forces.

The irony all along has been that our hierarchy has never graduated beyond direct action by Special Forces. While the Special Forces should be a central to asymmetric response, asymmetric warfare does not does not automatically equate to a physical attack.

A physical attack is only the extreme and potentially most dangerous expression of asymmetric warfare. The key lies in achieving strategic objectives through the application of modest resources with the essential psychological element.

The primary task of Special Forces is across the border through the spectrum of conflict, not in times only of what the hierarchy interprets as ‘war’. It is high time we get on with establishing our Special Operations Command in a focused manner rather than just keeping it as a gigantic organization with little optimization.

Pakistan is enveloped by India, Afghanistan and Iran with all three affected by Pakistani terrorism even though Iran is lesser hit. There is need for all three to work out a plan of action to coordinate diplomacy, information operations, military and economic actions. The US-India-Afghanistan deliberations can continue concurrently.

(Lt General Katoch is a veteran of the Indian Army)
(Cover Photograph Basit Zargar: Helicopters pressed into service over Uri, after the terror attack)