Three Terror Attacks Since Surgical Strike: Is India Any Safer?

The strikes may have "avenged" Uri but have by no means affected the pattern of terrorists attacking security forces in Kashmir.

09/10/2016 8:08 AM IST | Updated 09/10/2016 9:06 AM IST
Mukesh Gupta / Reuters

Historically, the biggest terrorism incidents in India that involve Pakistan, happen in November and December. The Mumbai 2008 attacks took place on 26 November. The Parliament attack in 2001 took place on 13 December. The IC 814 hijack in 1999 took place on 24 December.

The freezing winter in Kabul and Kashmir alike slows down political and militant activity in the region – or so goes the conventional wisdom. An analysis of militancy incidents in Jammu and Kashmir by Harry Stevens shows militancy peaking in September. As the number of incidents falls in the winter, the threat of spectacular Fidayeen attacks and bomb blasts in the rest of India seems to increase.

This festive season, the threat perception is higher than usual. India's big cities and 22 airports have been put on high alert, even as the media, the ruling party and online warriors are claiming a victory on Pakistan. The truth is: Ten days after a cross-LoC military raid, India is no safer. If anything, the threat perception is even higher.

The government wants us to believe that the surgical strike has sent Pakistan the message that there will be a high cost to terrorism.

"India has raised the stakes, we have raised the cost for Pakistan. There is a possibility of this (surgical strikes) becoming an 'acceptable norm'. For Pakistan, terrorist strikes or covert operations were a low-risk, low-cost option all along. This has changed now. We don't want escalation, but we have set a precedent," a top government official told The Indian Express.

Three terror attacks since Uri

But it is clear that the surgical strike has not been a cost high enough to stop terrorism. There have already been three terrorist attacks in Kashmir within ten days of the surgical strike.

Just four days later, militants attacked adjoining BSF and army camps in Baramulla town, killing one BSF soldier and wounding another. The terrorists managed to escape. Security forces are unsure about the exact count of the terrorists, but believe it to be 3-4.

Two days later, on 6 October, terrorists opened fire at an army camp in Langate in Kupwara. No security personnel died and the three terrorists were killed. The army found evidence of the medicines and other material they were carrying of having crossed over from the Pakistani side.

Another two days later, on 8 October, a policeman was killed by terrorists in Shopian at a police post meant to guard minorities. The terrorists managed to flee.

How, then, can anyone celebrate the surgical strike as having successfully imposed a cost high enough on Pakistan to stop terrorism? The surgical strike may have "avenged" Uri but has by no means affected the pattern of terrorists attacking security forces in Kashmir.

The big picture remains what it was

We respond with outrage only when the casualty count is high -- such as in Uri. And we gloss over an attack when we lose just a soldier or two. In doing so, we miss the larger pattern of what is happening here.

The number of fidayeen suicide attacks has risen sharply in 2016, as has the casualty count of security forces. Uri was part of this pattern. The terrorists in Uri were more successful than other attackers, because they managed to find soldiers in the kitchen house, lock it and set it on fire. The three attacks since Uri show that the wider pattern of these attacks didn't stop, not even for a week, and in any such attack there could again by a high casualty count.

Some claim that the Uri surgical strike has completely changed the balance of power between India and Pakistan. This, once again, will be tested when there is another terror strike that produces a body count high enough for public opinion to be outraged.

As many have pointed out, cross-border LoC raids have often happened before -- including after Indian soldiers were beheaded in 2011. Such raids used to be routine between the late '90s and 2003, when the two countries agreed to a ceasefire.

You call use the phrase "surgical strike" to describe a well-executed cross-border military raid but the surgery is far from complete. The terrorist infrastructure in Pakistan is so vast, it extends well beyond Pakistan-administered Kashmir and into south Punjab. Jaish-e-Mohammad and Lashkar-e-Taiba continue to recruit, indoctrinate and train young men into killing themselves in Kashmir and elsewhere in India. India simply does not have the maneuvering room to do a full surgery, as many would like. The threat of unaffordable escalation between nuclear-armed powers remains very high.

This time, Pakistan said nothing happened, and did not therefore respond militarily. Next time it may not remain silent. Responding to every high-casualty terror strike with a surgical strike, tit for tat, may be easier said than done.

The government understands this, and that is why prime minister Narendra Modi has been asking people to tone down the chest-thumping. India remains exposed to a very high risk of terrorism, and those celebrating the surgical strike as a victory of sorts should take it easy.

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