Open democratic societies have a perennial problem. That is to resolve quickly, in the face of an attack, what needs to be done. The news of the attack cannot be kept secret. Debates and discussions break out. Amateur armchair strategists expound their views. The amateur does not have to think beyond the next step. At the next step, he can forget what he said and take up the matter as if it is a new challenge.
Even responsible governments have problems. No one controls or coordinates the responses. If it is sudden, then there is a simultaneous, often contradictory, cacophony of views expressed. Why do three members of the Cabinet — the Home and the Defence Ministers as well as the Prime Minister — need to pronounce, and if so, why the banalities such as ‘the guilty will be punished’? Surely that is obvious. Does it need saying?
Once the Prime Minister had opened out the quarrel with Pakistan by putting PoK and Balochistan in the gambit, some retaliation should have been foreseen. Pakistan has two armies — a jihadi guerrilla army and then a conventional one. The jihadi army allows a flexible deniable response. At the very least, India should have anticipated the attack, in Uri or elsewhere.
One clear indication from Pathankot and Uri is that perimeter security is soft and that the enemy knows and relies on it. Our soldiers may be brave and hardy but if the fences have holes in them, they die in vain. One surprise attack is bad enough; two similar ones indicate breathtaking negligence. There seems to be a multiplicity of agencies in charge of security. They surface when there is a lapse, all at once, having implicitly failed in their job. So one long-run action is to examine all camps and their security arrangements. The jihadi with wire cutters should not get through.
If the point is to be made that PoK is legitimately a part of India as a result of the original accession treaty, then it has to be followed through with action.
This can be done in a variety of ways.
The Chinese have the best military strategy in this area. They believe that the area disputed between India and China is theirs. In 1962, and subsequently several times, they have made powerful incursions. They prove the point that they have the capability of occupying the territory they think they have a claim on. But then they don’t carry through an occupation. Having proved they can do it, they withdraw.
When this happened in 1962, India was doubly humiliated. Firstly the Indian attempt to ‘throw the Chinese out’ was shown to be an empty boast. Then, by withdrawing unilaterally, the Chinese showed that they were in control. That was a statement of power. That has been repeated other times by the Chinese, also in their border dispute with the Russians.
India needs to learn the Chinese way of fighting. Demonstrate power as much by combat as by restraint. Establish the claim to PoK, but then leave it. Get to the other frontier and then withdraw.
The retaliation may come not in PoK but in Punjab. Lal Bahadur Shastri switched the area of battle around in 1965 very effectively. Think through the next few rounds. There will be many.