Updated: June 29, 2021 7:31:41 am
Drones, which have been in the tactical and operational calculus for some time now, made their presence felt in Jammu on Sunday night. In the first terrorist attack of its kind, two unmanned aerial vehicles dropped sophisticated Improvised Explosive Device (IED) payloads, injuring two IAF personnel at the base. The attack is significant for two reasons, and the governmental and military response to it must straddle both these registers. First, on the military technology and readiness front, India must do everything to ensure that it can prevent such attacks in the future. Second, the terror strike has come at a crucial moment: New Delhi has made headway internationally in its diplomatic efforts with Pakistan. And domestically, mainstream political actors in Jammu and Kashmir are being brought into the conversation about the state’s future by the Centre. It is imperative that these efforts at peace and stability are not derailed.
The Border Security Force, the army and police in J&K and Punjab, have been aware of the use of drones by forces across the border to smuggle in weapons for some time now. As recently as May 14, for example, the BSF detected weapons dropped by a drone to Jammu, allegedly from Pakistan. In fact, for the better part of a decade, Pakistan has both used and borne the brunt of drone warfare — going back to the time where its territory was used as a base by the US forces for the latter’s actions in Afghanistan as well as within Pakistan. China, for its part, has been developing drones for both military and civilian purposes and is at the cutting edge of UAV technologies. While New Delhi is aware of these developments, it must adapt to this technology with greater alacrity. India’s defence establishment must urgently invest in countermeasures and surveillance equipment to deal with UAVs, particularly during low-visibility hours.
On the political and diplomatic front, it is necessary to guard against haste and over-reaction. The NIA, police and military are conducting an investigation into the origin of Sunday night’s attack. It is only when they present evidence, and not before, should blame be assigned to any quarter. After a prolonged freeze in bilateral ties, both India and Pakistan have respected the ceasefire along the Line of Control since February and a space for dialogue has opened up. Incidents of cross-border terrorism, too, have come down significantly. Unless there is concrete evidence of the Pakistan military or state being involved in the attack, the process of cautious diplomacy must continue. It is equally important that internal security considerations in J&K do not scupper the prime minister’s initiative — and promise — of reviving the political process and statehood. It is, of course, possible that the attack is meant to derail the dialogue between India and Pakistan. But it is only by acting with maturity, and caution, that Delhi can ensure the failure of that ambition.
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