A day after 18 soldiers were killed in a terror attack on an Army camp in Uri, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and key ministers received counsel against rash military action at their first full-scale meeting Monday, government sources said.
Top military commanders warned that Pakistan’s army had raised its defensive posture along the Line of Control (LoC). Few details emerged from the meeting, but senior government figures pushed back against calls from their ranks for immediate military strikes against Pakistan.
The meeting, attended by Home Minister Rajnath Singh, Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar and Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, however, heard from National Security Advisor Ajit Doval and Army chief General Dalbir Singh on possible long-term options to retaliate against jihadist logistics and the Pakistani military infrastructure.
The Prime Minister briefed President Pranab Mukherjee on the discussions late Monday.
Indian Air Force chief Arup Raha, who is also chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee, was not present at the main meeting, a sign some security experts took to signal that the government was not, at this stage, considering air strikes across the LoC.
Following the 26/11 strikes, the IAF had drawn up elaborate plans to carry out retaliatory attacks on jihad training camps in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, which it has rehearsed several times in liaison with the intelligence services.
Foreign diplomats based in New Delhi read the government’s decision to allow the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad bus service to proceed as scheduled as another sign that India is not contemplating immediate escalation of hostilities along the LoC.
General Dalbir Singh, military sources said, based his advice to the government on conversations with senior commanders in the field, who he visited Sunday. Though the Indian Army has prepared plans for strikes against jihadist infrastructure and military positions supporting them using special forces, he was told Pakistan had used the time since the Sunday morning strike in Uri to fortify its positions, making a counter-attack risky.
In addition, field commanders also expressed concern that even localised battles along the LoC, with Indian and Pakistani forward positions trading fire, could facilitate infiltration — thus helping jihadist groups already operating against the Army inside Kashmir.
A PTI report from Islamabad said Pakistan Army chief General Raheel Sharif met his top commanders and said the military was “watchful” towards the security imperatives of the country in the wake of “a hostile narrative” by India following the Uri attack. A statement from Pakistan Army quoted its chief as saying that the “armed forces of Pakistan are fully prepared to respond to entire spectrum of direct and indirect threat”.
National Security Advisor Doval is believed to have separately discussed with the Prime Minister the options for non-conventional measures targeting the jihadist leadership. However, these were not discussed at the meeting, sources familiar with the discussions said.
For now, New Delhi has focused its strategy on gathering evidence New Delhi believes will be critical to legitimise any future military options it might exercise. National Investigation Agency detectives arrived in Uri late Monday, with their early effort focusing on recovering data from one of the two Garmin-manufactured Global Positioning Sets salvaged from the terrorists killed at the camp.
The Garmin eTrex set was scheduled to be flown to New Delhi late Monday for technical assessment by specialists of the Intelligence Bureau and National Technical Research Organisation.
“Even if some basic data can be recovered from the set,” a source familiar with the investigation said, “we shall request the United States for help with recovering more information from Garmin’s servers”.
Four Lashkar-e-Taiba terrorists who attacked Poonch earlier this month, police sources said, used a similar Garmin set. Analysis of the set, the sources said, showed the group had begun their journey at the Halan camp near Forward Kahuta, in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir’s Haveli district, crossing the LoC near the Betar nullah.
Incidentally, the intelligence community remains divided on the identity of the group which attacked the Army in Uri, with some experts in Military Intelligence and the Intelligence Bureau continuing to believe that the attackers belonged to Lashkar-e-Taiba.
Lt General Ranbir Singh, Director-General of Military Operations, had told reporters Sunday that “initial assessment” pointed to the Jaish-e-Muhammad — an opinion this newspaper had first reported to have been based on information from the Defence Intelligence Agency.
However, a matrix-sheet recovered from the terrorists — it is used to decrypt coded text passed between their control stations and field units inside Kashmir — closely resembles several others used by the Lashkar, intelligence sources told The Indian Express.
“This is one of the key issues the NIA is obviously going to have to address,” a source familiar with its investigation said. “The Army isn’t a criminal investigation organisation, but it’s important for the country that we be able to present an evidence-backed case to the international community,” the source said.