Time for Covert Ops Against Pak, Says Ex-Army Commander HS Panag
Retired Lieutenant General HS Panag, who has in the past commanded the area in Uri where the suicide attack on Sunday took place says India’s best bet to tackle such attacks is through covert operations that effectively target the enemy at its heart.
He also explained how attacks like the one in Uri are carried out by Pakistan not only to make a statement, but to motivate pro-Pakistani elements in the Valley.
The Quint, speaking to Lieutenant General (retd) HS Panag, discussed the implications of today’s attack in which Pakistani militants targeted the Indian Army headquarters in Uri near the LoC on Sunday. Seventeen soldiers were killed in the most deadly attack on an Army establishment in Kashmir in recent years.
What is your reaction on the Uri attack that claimed the lives of 17 soldiers?
We have been fighting a complex battle in the valley for the past 26 years. Pakistan has been sponsoring terrorism. We have had to face insurgency by Pakistani terrorists, and indigenous terrorists in the valley.
It’s an ongoing game. We are hunting them and they are also trying to inflict some damage. Uri on Sunday is another chapter from this fight so I would say it’s nothing unusual, except this time they have managed to achieve total surprise.
The units were changing, and at that crucial moment, like we say in military terms, we were caught napping.
Do you think there was lapse on the Army’s part in stopping today’s attack?
In military matters, there is nothing black and white. Nothing is perfect. When you say we have ensured 100% security, that’s just a generic statement. It’s more complex than that. There is no perfection.
But in this case, it does appear that the units were changing, our guard was down and the terrorists with their research used this to their advantage.
The terrorists used the element of surprise, something which any Army is vulnerable to in the middle of war, this, after all, is an insurgency so I would not read too much into it.
Do you think the timing of the attack has anything to do with PM Nawaz’s Shariff’s upcoming address to the UN?
I think we are unnecessarily attaching strategic significance to a tactical action. These are ongoing actions, part of a larger project. However, it can’t be denied that the adversary calibrates its actions. If Pakistan wants to make a statement at a particular time, they do use such attacks to highlight their point.
I believe today’s attack, like most in the recent past, has been carried out by fresh insurgents in the valley. There are not many terrorists left in the valley and the ones that are left are not too active.
My assessment is that today’s attack was a result of a fresh infiltration and certainly had Pakistani involvement.
Attack on Army establishments by the Pakistanis have increased, do you think it is down to a rise in terrorism in the Valley?
Since 2005-2006, the number of terrorists have been waning and counter-insurgency operations have improved. We have enjoyed great success in curbing terrorism in the valley.
However, over the last two three years, attacks on military posts and establishments have increased, something which was rarely seen before.
It can very easily be interpreted as a rise in terrorism in the valley, but I believe it is down to a change of tactics by the terrorists in the valley.
These attacks are aimed at boosting the morale of pro-Pak elements in the valley among whom a perception was being made that the ISI has run out of terrorists to fight the Indian Army in Kashmir.
Such attacks are to supplement the ongoing protests in the valley.
These attacks, I believe, were carried out by fresh insurgents who came specifically to make a splash and make a statement.
How do you think India should react to today’s attack?
This point has been thrashed a number of times. The answer to this lies in the greater strategy that India employs to handle Pakistan.
All-out war for us is not smart. India at this juncture cannot seen to be starting an all-out war against Pakistan. Also, considering that both nations are armed with nuclear weapons, the only outcome of an all-out war can be a stalemate after a week of fighting, which will get India nowhere.
Apart from all-out war, another option of surgical strikes comes with horrendous implications as we leave our own cities open to becoming targets of Pakistani airstrikes.
What are the handicaps in employing covert tactics in Pakistan?
Our handicap in carrying out covert ops is that we do not have active cells in the country, unlike Pakistan which has such cells in our country that target our establishments.
We need to strengthen such infrastructure inside Pakistan. Instead of relying on anti-Pakistan forces for our covert agenda, we should have our own cells that can target strategic establishments of the Pakistani security establishment and give them a proper response.
(Retired Lieutenant General HS Panag has served in the Indian Army for over 40 years and was also the GOC in C Northern Command and Central Command.)