The Director General Military Operations (DGMO) Lt. Gen. Ranbir Singh briefing the media on the terrorist attack at Army Camp, in Uri, Jammu and Kashmir on September 19, 2016.
Yes, it's too late for India to take any overt action against Pakistan for its attack on the Brigade HQs at Uri, which martyred 18 Indian soldiers. The window for a response has long closed. Responding now would be foolhardy and result in casualties disproportionate to any payoff.
A military action, must have a clear achievable aim. What would be the aim of any military action now?
Retribution? The terrorists are quite dead. By calling them terrorists, not ISI trained warfighters which they were, we absolved the Pakistan army of responsibility, so there is no logic in seeking retribution from the Pakistan army!
Hitting terrorists in camps? Terrorists may train in camps, but the Indian Army won't find them sleeping in any of them. They would have merged with the populace at the first news of the Uri attack.
Teaching Pakistan a lesson? It involves escalatory risks and will definitely result in many more coffins and dolorous footage of grieving family members. Most importantly, 'Teaching Pakistan a lesson' is not a clear achievable aim!
A Viable Option
If India still wants retribution, the best approach would be to declare the Uri attack as an act of war by Pakistan, which it indeed was; by no stretch of imagination was it a terrorist strike. Let's face the truth - Successive Indian governments have termed cross border attacks on Indian military installations as terrorist strikes, in order to duck the responsibility to respond to them.
In the case of Pathankot and Uri, where commandos trained by the ISI crossed the border and directly struck Indian military installations, Pakistan didn't export terror to India, it attacked India!
Pakistan is exploiting the Indian government's proclivity to weigh loss of soldier lives against loss of economic growth rate to the hilt. Labeling Pakistan a terrorist state and seeking its isolation after the Uri attack is an extension of the narrative that euphemistically labels an act of war as a terrorist strike.
Declaring the Uri attack as an act of war would give India a viable, non escalatory, military response option. India could respond in a manner that Pakistan is incapable of matching.
For example, India could sink a Pakistan Navy warship or down a Maritime reconnaissance aircraft, taking responsibility only if some evidence were to emerge of Indian involvement.
Lacking nuclear submarines, or long range fighters like the Su-30MKI, it would be impossible for Pakistan Navy to respond in a similar manner.
Any Pak mobilization to counter Indian retaliation, would be viewed as escalatory by the world. More importantly it would be tantamount to revving up to nationwide grief.
The Uri attack should not have been allowed to happen.
- There was no response action plan in place, despite Pathankot.
- There was no coordinated response to intel of a planned infiltration. ISTAR assets were not deployed to confirm the intel and thwart infiltration using artillery fire.
- Security at Brigade HQs was extremely lax despite an alert. The attackers inexplicably breached perimeter defenses without being challenged.
It's likely that many senior army officers' heads will roll on account of the above lapses.
India can prevent future attacks from across the border by adopting the following three simple, non escalatory measures.
- The government should allow the Army and the IAF to use armed helicopters over unpopulated areas in close proximity of the LoC. Such use would allow the Army to plug infiltration routes more effectively.
- The Army must be given carte blanche to stop infiltration. Intel on planned infiltration should be verified using ISTAR assets. If confirmed, the LoC in the sector must go live with small arm fire, artillery fire and Special Ops to thwart the infiltration.
- The Army must be given carte blanche to revenge infiltration. Following a Pathankot like strike, the Army must be able to retaliate immediately in whatever manner it feels best within the sector used for infiltration. The Army should have clearance to strike targets upto 60-km deep using rockets.