Stung by India's surgical strikes, Pak is bound to react
- India's surgical strikes have hurt the moral of Pakistan army.
- The Pakistani army is bound to carry out a counter-attack to punish India.
The raids by the Indian Army across the Line of Control on terror launch pads escalate the conflict with the Islamic Republic of Pakistan.
The attack by Pakistan-backed terrorists on the BSF camp in Baramullah - that martyred one Indian soldier is a continuation of Pakistan’s old policy of bleeding India. This time, however, there may be a price to pay. How high that price is will partly determine the course of Pakistan’s Kashmir narrative going forward.
The Indian assault has wounded the morale of the Pakistani Army. It was hit at multiple places while on a supposed high alert. It also complicates the tactical choices and retaliation options available to the Pakistan Army. One thing, however, is certain - it will attack again, soon.
Pakistan Army – privilege, Prestige and power
Pakistan is a militarised state with the Army ruling to roost. Unlike most countries, Pakistan’s army is a military, political and commercial enterprise rolled into one. This attack hurts its interest across the board. It must strike back to retain the myth of invincibility that it has created through the 70 years war with India. However, this time, the stakes are higher. The Pakistan army can rule out the series of painless strikes it is accustomed to.
India has to factor in General Raheel Sharif’s retirement in November. He has successfully bombed his own people with F - 16 and temporally quelled an insurgency in Pakistan’s Pashtoon North West killing about 700 Pakistanis.
However, the drone killing by America and this strike by India lives his legacy under a cloud. He may want to live behind some sunshine. That could take the two nations to the brink. In Pakistan, an army chief has far too much say in the course of action - which could translate into a dangerous game of increased terror attacks across the LOC.
Cross LOC Ambush
The objectives of a counter strike would be to punish India – since an Indian response is almost certain it will nullify any military advantage that a knee jerk attack may have for Islamabad.
Nevertheless, with its prestige on the line the most likely option is one or more ambushes across the Loc combined with artillery firing at India across the Pir Panjal.
This translates to greater danger in patrolling the LOC for Indian troops and a much greater chance of bloody attacks on isolated group of soldiers. Pakistan Army has previously shown disregard for the Geneva Convention – and India has not objected too much about the torture of its soldiers.
This could have set a dangerous precedent. Ambush by Pakistan regulars on the LOC is the biggest danger for India. Additional reinforcements must be put in place immediately in the valley.
Activating sleeping cells
The second option is to activate sleeping cells among the Sunni Jihad terror personnel’s who may have already crossed over into India. This was seen at Baramullah and will be witnessed again. Indian intelligence estimated put the number at about 30 odd terrorists in Kashmir alone. This could be a far deadlier option as was witness in Uri and earlier in Udhampur.
Here again the Pakistan tactic could invite an equal if not greater retaliation thus nullifying any advantage. India’s capability to damage Pakistan in POK is robust and Rawalpindi will have to war game that before exercising. India too needs to be clear on counter attacks – it will be bloody, it will be long and sometimes it could even go wrong but staying the course is the best option for the Indian Army in the long run.
A 26 \11 kind of attack on civilians
Pakistan diplomatic isolation and India’s new boldness combine to make this the least likely option. However, nothing will please groups like the Jaish and Lashkar who may already have sneaked into India to carry out a punishing strike. Alternatively, Pakistan could try and push terrorists through the relatively porus sea route towards the western seaboard.
Indian intelligence needs to be vigilant and the internal security apparatus – including Human intelligence needs a step up. A 26\11 attack is a real and present danger for India. The response to a civilian strike will have to be harsher. It must make the last raids look like a picnic. This would be real escalation and sitting in Rawalpindi the general cannot rule it out given the scale of India’s capabilities. Sitting in Delhi India too must prepare for the long hard grind/ it is not for nothing that nationals have large armies. The PM needs foremost to address the nation and prepare it for the bloody road ahead. Not doing so could sap morale when the time comes. For, the time will inevitably come.
(Ninad D Sheth is a senior journalist based in Delhi. The views expressed in this article are his own.)