20/09/2016 3:03 PM IST | Updated 20/09/2016 3:31 PM IST

The Lessons We Must Learn From Uri And The Mistakes We Must Not Make While Retaliating

The ease with which insurgents are able to sneak in shows that the LoC remains extremely porous.

Hindustan Times via Getty Images
Army personnel arranging remains of Late Martyrs Naiman Kujur and Jawara Munda, Jharkhand, and SK Vidyarthi, Varanashi, for tribute, who were killed in Uri terror attack, at Birsa Munda Airport on September 19, 2016 in Ranchi.

In December 2014, the army camp in a place called Mohra was attacked when Jammu and Kashmir was going through the assembly election process. In the attack, eleven soldiers and policemen were killed. Why this is important is that the Mohra Army camp is in Uri tehsil, the same geographical terrain where the Army camp was attacked on Sunday morning.

That attack exposed the vulnerability of any Army formation along the Line of Control and the fact that they needed to be alert 24x7. The Uri attack on Sunday is proof that no lessons were learnt from Mohra.

This is despite the fact that the Mohra camp, according to sources in the Kashmir security establishment, had only concertina barbed wire while the Uri camp in comparison, had a 8-feet tall concrete wall and barbed wire of 3 feet height over that. The martyrdom of 18 soldiers has shown the Indian Army in poor light and the sharpest criticism is coming its way internally from its own former highly-decorated officers.

What's worse is that Lt Gen (Retd) Syed Ata Hasnain, who has commanded the Uri unit before, purely on a hunch had warned the commander in charge there of the possibility of an attack 10 days back. Separately, an intelligence input also reportedly warned of an impending attack. But the Army on the ground ultimately proved to not have been sufficiently vigilant.

Mukesh Gupta / Reuters
Geeta, wife of Ravi Paul, an Indian army soldier who was killed in Sunday's attack at an Indian army base in Kashmir's Uri, mourns at her house in Sarwa village in Samba district, south of Jammu, September 19, 2016.

The modus operandi followed by the terrorists of late is to infiltrate by avoiding the Army and BSF posts along the Line of Control (LoC) and somehow get to the Valley. But in some other cases, they decide against going deep inside and instead hit the closest Army post from the LoC. In this case, Uri, which is surrounded by PoK on three sides, was just 6 km on the south-west side to the LoC.

The attack in Uri happened during a transition of army units. The 10 Dogra regiment was being replaced by 6 Bihar Regiment. This changeover plan is kept a top secret and only a probe will reveal if plans were leaked.

This again shows that despite detailed postmortem of past mistakes, lessons have not been learnt. In August 2013, five soldiers were gunned down in Poonch by Pakistan's Border Action Team when the 14 Maratha Light Infantry was being inducted to replace the 21 Bihar Regiment. The inquiry showed that Standard Operating Procedures were not followed and there were serious tactical errors by the Indian patrol. The relieving team was in a complacent frame of mind and the one replacing it was not yet familiar with the terrain. Like in Uri, the soldiers in Poonch, too, were sleeping when they were gunned down at close range.

An Indian soldier guards outside the army base which was attacked Sunday by suspected militants at Uri, Indian controlled Kashmir, Monday, Sept. 19, 2016.

The third point is about the LoC itself. The ease with which the insurgents are able to sneak in shows that for all the big talk, the LoC remains extremely porous.

So while it is fine to blame Pakistan for the stealthy attack, we need to examine if there had been procedural lapses and violations of SOPs during this incident. It is quite obvious that Pakistan over the years has perfected the fidayeen mode of inflicting maximum damage, hurting Indian pride and morale the most. And for a country with a GDP one-tenth that of India, finding men willing to be fidayeens is, unfortunately, not difficult.

If a fidayeen is hired from the more prosperous Punjab province, which is the main recruitment cachet area for the Lashkar-e-Toiba and the Jaish-e-Mohammed, Rs 5 lakh is deposited into the family's account— half before the task is carried out and the remainder after the hit, according to Indian officials familiar with the intelligence on the subject. But if the person is hired from the comparatively poorer Sind or Waziristan provinces, he is only given Rs2 lakh for blowing himself up.

What is upsetting is that India has been only talking with no willingness to walk the talk. Compare the statements made in 2013 and now after Uri.

Typically, a fidayeen is given about five days to carry out the task for which he has been indoctrinated. That is the shelf life of a deeply motivated terrorist who needs to be in a particular state of mind. If he is not able to execute the plan, he becomes a regular terrorist, and is decommissioned from the martyr career track instantly.

What is upsetting is that India has been only talking with no willingness to walk the talk. Compare the statements made in 2013 and now after Uri. In 2013, after a jawan was beheaded, Prime minister Manmohan Singh said, "after this dastardly act, there can't be business as usual with Pakistan." The then chief of Army staff Gen Bikram Singh said: "We reserve the right to retaliate at a time of our choosing."

This time, Lt Gen Ranbir Singh, the Director General of Military Operations, has repeated the same lines. He said India reserves the right to retaliate at a time of its choosing. Prime Miniser Narendra Modi, while condemning the dastardly attack, assured the nation that those behind the "despicable attack will not go unpunished".

What then are the options before India? The Indian Army needs a good six months to prepare for a strategic offensive by which time the momentum would be lost. There are also serious questions about the preparedness of the Army in terms of weaponry.

Father Onkarnath Dalai, center, and relatives burst into tears as brother Barun, left, looks on near the mortal remains of Indian army soldier Gangadhar Dalai, who was killed in a militant attack in Uri, Kashmir, prior to his cremation in Jamuna Balia village, west of Kolkata, India, Tuesday, Sept. 20, 2016.

But there will always be the Twitter crowd and some military hotheads who will talk of flushing the terrorists out. India should not forget how it burnt its fingers with some rank bad planning and preparation during the Indian Peace Keeping Force fiasco in Sri Lanka.

In his book Perilous Interventions, diplomat Hardeep Puri points out that the then Army chief K. Sundarji told PM Rajiv Gandhi that India could neutralise LTTE in two weeks. An assumption that went horribly wrong.

Which is why those on the ground are not in favour of surgical strikes across the LoC because that carries the high risk of escalating into war. Pakistan is a nuclear state and New Delhi cannot be completely certain of which rogue in Rawalpindi has his finger on the button. Also, strikes will lead to collateral damage in the form of civilian casualties in PoK and that may go against India.

The more preferred option being suggested even by those in the security establishment is to indulge in a tit for tat. Engage fidayeens in Pakistan who would do India's bidding for a price and target sensitive installations and key figures. This will give the Indian state plausible deniability and action plans can be activated in Karachi, Islamabad and Rawalpindi almost immediately.

An all-out military offensive is an expensive proposition, the social media chest thumping not withstanding. While it will bleed Pakistan, whose Army is already stretched, it will also inflict a financial cost on India.

Internationalising the Baluchistan issue is another diplomatic offensive India needs to mount while undertaking a covert operation through RAW to create unrest in the province. Open up as many battlefields in Pakistan for its military establishment to deal with without declaring war.

An all-out military offensive is an expensive proposition, the social media chest thumping not withstanding. While it will bleed Pakistan, whose Army is already stretched, it will also inflict a financial cost on India. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has to think in terms of how to pay Pakistan back in the same coin.