India’s New Pre-Emptive Action and Equivalent Retaliation (PAER) Strategy
Ashish Sirsikar

Most people see India’s recent surgical strikes as retaliation and an avenging of the Uri terror attack. While there is some truth in this, it is not the complete truth. India has been sufferingacts of terror

for two and a half decades on account of Pakistan’s strategy of bleeding India by ‘a thousand cuts’. During the said period, while the Kashmir Valley has always been kept on a boil with regular incidents of terror being principally aimed at the security forces, other parts of India have also borne the brunt of terror in the form of the Mumbai and Parliament attacks besides others.

While Pakistan has been single mindedly following its strategy of bleeding India to a supposed death, India has been suffering silently without undertaking any strategy of note. Hence, for Rawalpindi (Islamabad does not factor into any Pak strategy of note), Uri was supposed to be just another one of the thousand cuts which would throw India into another round of endless debates, threats, coercion but result in nothing that would hurt Pakistan (read Pakistan Army).

What happened in India post Uri was unexpected and hence Uri should be considered as a watershed moment in both, India’s reaction to Pak sponsored terror and Pak’s cavalier approach to sponsoring terror without fear of retribution. The attack and Pakistan’s continued denial despite being provided with conclusive proof regarding its hand in the Uri terror attack, left India with no option but to jettison its so called strategy of strategic restraint which was invariably being read in Pakistan as a sign of weakness and an incapability of taking strong effective actions. In all probability, the result appears to be the emergence of India’s new strategy of ‘Pre-emptive Action and Equivalent Retaliation’ (PAER). This strategy stems from an understanding that:-

    as concerns terrorism emanating from Pakistan, those conducting it on Pakistan’s behalf cannot be said to be ‘Non State Actors’ but instead these are ‘Deep State Sponsored Actors’;
  1. purely diplomatic strategy involving only coercions and threats would not work, it would have to be supported by tangible effective actions in the military domain; and,
  2. elimination of terrorists would not solve the problem but the credibility of the ‘Deep State’” would have to be undermined.

With such an understanding, this strategy works towards resolving these factors by involving all instruments of national power, with military being only one of the options. Hence, only seeing the recent surgical strikes as being an avenging of Uri is not seeing the full picture. While, surgical strikes are tangible actions seen by us and felt by Pakistan, they are in essence an integral part of the PAER strategy and thus work in tandem with other instruments of state.

Evidently, from the fateful day that the Deep State Sponsored Actors undertook the Uri terror attack, India commenced its PAER strategy by taking diplomatic actions which worked towards isolation of Pakistan, sensitizing the global environment about India’s right for equivalent reactions and rightfully calling for labelingof Pakistan as a terrorist state. Hence, whilst Rawalpindi felt it was business as usual, India was getting its time right by taking the above diplomatic actions. Once the time was right (remember the Indian DGMO saying “We reserve the right to respond at the time and place of our choosing”) the Indian Army undertook surgical strikes at a place which it deemed to be right. These places being terrorist launch pads which contained terrorists awaiting infiltration, post which, they would have committed further acts of terror. Thus India’s PAER strategy sends two signals, firstly, each Pak cut will be met with an equivalent response, and secondly, India can and will take pre-emptive actions. It will not wait for the next cut but will blunt the knife before it is wielded!

From what has happened over the last fortnight it would be fair to say that this strategy appears to be a well thought out one with the backing of a strong political will. Further, the fine-tuned orchestration between various organs of the state is also an extremely heartening thing to see. Besides India’s PAER strategy, what has thrown Pakistan into a bigger logjam is that, post the surgical strikes, India has claimed responsibility for the same and kept the world informed about the strikes (so much so that, the Indian DGMO even informed his counterpart the Pak DGMO about them). Ideally, Pakistan would have liked India to execute the surgical strikes as covert operations so that it could have carried on its own covert activities of sponsoring terror without being burdened with the response of an overt response. That not being the case, Pakistan is now in a bind. For the moment though, it has carried on along expected lines by denying that the surgical strikes ever took place (akin to refusing to accept the bodies of their own soldiers post Kargil operations). Further as per the same script, they have also engaged in malicious false propaganda claiming death and capture of Indian soldiers during the said surgical strike.

However, Pakistan’s past record shows that there would be a response sooner than later. Hence, what does India do in response? Before delving into the same it is important to put to rest the belief that India’s surgical strikes have put things in an escalatory mode. Such a thinking is absurd as it rests on the assumption that while Pakistan goes about its merry way of conducting acts of terror through its proxy actors, India has to behave in a supposed mature manner by limiting itself to diplomatic reactions and that too of the benign kind. Why? Because, if India undertakes a military response across the Line of Control (LoC), then the escalatory ladder would be activated and Pakistan would use its Tactical Nuclear Weapon that it has been brandishing all along. Deduction: While Pakistan keeps delivering its thousand cuts, India has to suffer silently as the onus of escalation rests on it. Guess what, India’s Uri response has called this bluff too!!

Pakistan is most likely to respond by continuing its strategy of proxy war albeit by attempting fidayeen strikes which are more sensational. It could also attempt firing and shelling at the LoC or International Border (IB). In response to the same, India has to resolutely stick to its PAER strategy. Doing so involves employing all the instruments available to the state. On the diplomatic front, working towards labeling Pakistan as a terrorist state is of the foremost priority and has to be undertaken with the understanding that it is a long drawn process which will yield results in the long run. Further, global isolation of Pakistan in concert with the world, and more importantly the countries suffering Pakistan sponsored terrorism is to continue unabated. Both these actions are well underway and credit to the Government is in order for them. It is important to understand that both these diplomatic actions are a part of India’s Preemptive Action strategy which is not restricted to the Military domain only and hence have to be seen as such. Besides these, other diplomatic actions such as rethinking of the Indus Water Treaty and working towards the denial ofeconomic doles that Pakistan has been receiving for ages have to be consistently attempted as Pakistan cannot be comfortably allowed to pursue its India centric policies without paying the price for them.

As concerns the military domain, India’s military options should involve pre-determined responses. As is well known, no terrorist infiltration from Pakistan is undertaken without the complete support of the Pakistani posts on the LoC. There is also no doubt that the terrorists undertaking terror attacks in India are supported morally and physically by Pakistan. Hence, they should be made to pay a price for the support that they are extending. Post any infiltration attempt, successful or not, the Pakistani post which has facilitated the same should be well taken care off by putting sufficient TNT on it to send home the requisite message. As regards fidayeen attacks, there is absolutely no doubt that the fidayeen attacks attempted against security installations would be repulsed professionally (as was proven by the recent failed fidayeen attack against the security camps at Baramulla). However, knowing the desperation of the Pakistan Army to preserve its primacy in Pakistan, such attacks would recur and the Indian security forces would do well not to lower their guard.

That said, post any infiltration attempt or fidayeen attack, India should continue to keep the option of surgical strikes at a time and place of our choosing open. Such surgical strikes cannot be seen as a one off option only as it sends a message that they were attempted for visual effect only, with no real intent in them. A continuing of such surgical strikes would certainly deter any infiltration and fidayeen attack as these would then come with animmediate tangible price. It is also important to note that, the military domain involves a wide spectrum of actions of which, the above actions constitute effective responses taken at the lower end of the spectrum. Thus every time, they cannot and need not be approved at the highest level but should rather be to left to the discretion of the defence forces hierarchy. Further, though certain quarters believe such actions would lead to a limited war being initiated by Pakistan, the chances of the same are remote on account of the Pakistan Army having its hand full and thus being incapable of attempting any misadventure of this kind. Also as in the recent past, Pakistan resorting to moving some of its forces from its western borders (which were deployed for counter-insurgency operations) to its eastern borders, worsens their situation even more as the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) now gets a better opportunity to take on the depleted Pakistan Army. As regards Pakistan choosing to violate the ceasefire outside of J&K, it does so as its own risk for it would get an immediate befitting reply in the same kind.

India is a responsible power which is interested in economic development for the betterment of its people. To achieve this it would ideally like a peaceful neighbourhood. However this does not mean that India has to suffer Pakistan’s strategy of a thousand cuts silently, mutely and reactively any more.

While escalation is not in the benefit of both India and Pakistan, holding India responsible for maintaining the escalatory ladder at all costs to include an unending loss of lives of its citizens, is not justifiable by any count. While employing all the options available to it, India has to proactively and equivalently react to every cut that Pakistan tries to inflict on it. Pakistan has to be made to pay the price for every cut that it tries to inflict on India. While for the moment India’s evolving PAER strategy is doing exactly this,it has to be ensured that the strategy staysin place as long as Pakistan persists with its policy of a thousand cuts.

Before concluding though, a word of caution would be in order. While India pursues such a strategy that would be in its best interests, we could well do without any chest beating and war mongering about the same for, actions should always speak louder than words.

Published Date: 10th October 2016, Image Source:
(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Vivekananda International Foundation)

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