The Surgical Attacks Will Change the Rules of India-Pakistan Game

The Director-General of Military Operations, Indian Army, Lieutenant General Ranbir Singh’s announcement that India had launched a series of strikes on the night of 28 September against seven different “launch pads” in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) that jihadi terrorists used for attacks across the Line of Control (LoC) has come as a relief.

Especially, no doubt, to the Bharatiya Janata Party government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi that had raised expectations of a disproportionately harsh response to the terrorist strikes on 18 September that resulted in the death of 19 jawans of the Bihar and Dogra regiments, but had stayed its hand until now.

In fact, these may have been the second set of cross-LoC strikes; the first lot of attacks going in on the night of 21 September, as first reported by The Quint. (Read: Army Confirms PoK Surgical Ops: 1st Strike Reported by The Quint)

Setting a Precedent for Proportional Retaliation

This is the first time that India has reacted with military action to a terrorist event. It obviously surprised the Pakistan Army’s Inter-Services Intelligence which, based on India’s past record of not responding to even significant political and economic provocations, such as the attack on Parliament on 13 December, 2001, followed seven years later by the attack on the commercial capital, Mumbai on 26 November, 2008, must have assumed that no Indian retaliation would be forthcoming.

This may be deduced from the large number of jihadi fatalities, as many as 70-odd if the Indian army’s estimate of each pad having ten terrorists and two ISI minders holds up. Had the Pakistan Army anticipated these counter-strikes they would have been prepared to meet them and engaged in fire-fights and attempted to shoot down the helicopters engaged in lifting the Special Forces to their target sites.

Such retaliation is fully justified both in terms of raising the cost to the Pakistan Army and setting a precedent for proportional retaliation in the future. General Headquarters, Rawalpindi, had so far assumed that their choice of asymmetric warfare was cost free and hence carried on with them without compunction.

India’s response in kind is also condoned by international law under the rubric of “self defence”. Article 51 of the UN Charter, for instance, states clearly that “Nothing in the present Charter shall impair the inherent right of individual or collective self-defence if an armed attack occurs against a Member of the United Nations”.

The ramifications of India’s retaliatory measure, albeit belated, are many. In the main, New Delhi has changed the rules of the game that Pakistan was playing by. India has now asserted its right to punish Pakistan, manifestly a state sponsor of terrorism, for its sustained campaign to destabilise Jammu & Kashmir and keep India unsettled, in a manner that will pass muster with the international community.

The Indian reaction has been localised and keyed to eliminating the threat from only those who posed a terrorist threat to the country.

The other equally significant aspect is that it has proved that the Modi government will shrug off the pressure from friendly Western states with the United States in the lead, that India observe restraint as it has done in the past, and that a non-response accompanied with a lot of “Don’t do it again” warnings and teeth-gnashing by the Indian government would be sufficient to deter Pakistan from again playing the terrorist card.

It did not ever work, but previous Indian governments were too eager to please Washington to do what’s good and right by India. This may be as important a change in India’s foreign policy mindset as the determination to strike at Pakistan — the linchpin of terrorism in southern Asia, whose baleful effects are being felt in ever-widening circles.

And finally, this anti-terrorist action suggests the Modi government has gone over the hump of hesitation and inaction that had marked its attitude after the terrorist jihadi attack on the Indian Air Force base in Pathankot in January this year, and is now resolved hereafter to deal with the LeT and JeM outlaws and their minders as they deserve to be treated — with extreme prejudice.
Published in the Quint, September 29, 2016, at

About Bharat Karnad

Senior Fellow in National Security Studies at the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi, he was Member of the (1st) National Security Advisory Board and the Nuclear Doctrine-drafting Group, and author, among other books of, 'Nuclear Weapons and Indian Security: The Realist Foundations of Strategy', 'India's Nuclear Policy' and most recently, 'Why India is Not a Great Power (Yet)'. Educated at the University of California (undergrad and grad), he was Visiting Scholar at Princeton University, University of Pennsylvania, the Shanghai Institutes of International Studies, and Henry L. Stimson Center, Washington, DC.
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15 Responses to The Surgical Attacks Will Change the Rules of India-Pakistan Game

  1. ~!@#$%^&*()_+ says:

    Re. “retaliation is fully justified” & “asserted its right to punish”

    Fully agreeable. The fight, since beginning, should have been about justified and overt action. Instead it was misshapen into a Recessed Diplomacy vs Diplomatic Deterrence. Whoever got frightened by Diplomatic whiskey sessions.

    Also are you sure about 70 kills. Because this morning a lesser known new TV channel was showing about 42 in just 1 camp. The picture was clearly taken in early morning sunlight and with very orderly laid out kills. If the numbers getting reported and the numbers that can be expected, are so irreconciled, then we need to re-assess what may have happened in the East too. Inside Myanmar the count too was reported in a widely divergent fashion.

    Could it be that somebody from our side does not want to gloat over it by telling the true count. An exercise, may be, in giving some face saving escape route. May be the delayed response from Pakis is suggestive of them evaluating this escape route. The fact they are not accepting the existence of the raid by itself does not tell us much at this point w.r.t. their future course of action. I would presume more terrorism in the medium term but I don’t see them doing that in the short term since that would allow India to band together. In the long term only manifest and justifiable action will bring them into the real talks.

    Indus Water Treaty can be justifiably torn apart at some future date should this terrorism continue. And to reach that point the GoI should ideally declare and invest in storage building along the river. It will take 10s of years to fully be done and that will give enough time for Diplomacy. Cash outlays will also signify an intent to follow through. Merely saying that we will take our own waters is too weak a threat.

    • ~!@#$%^&*()_+ says:

      This is the report I was talking about where 40+ were killed in 1 camp:

      APN News.

    • kaniskharsh says:

      I think the muted response by the top level of the government justifies your line of thinking. Their has not been even a single statement by the PM or the RM on this strike.

      Another interesting point to note is that, if some media outlets are to be believed, the operation was conducted in Hollywood style with real time monitoring from helmet cameras and drones. It had also put to rest the idiots who have been questioning the efficacy and fire power of the Indian armed forces and or intelligence agencies.

      As written by BK, this strike is the first of many more to come.

    • andy says:

      Re your statement in the last post:”This guy has decided to wager on Modi and it is typical of gamblers that they begin to imagine of even greater rewards to recompense for the losses they have sustained. Just that between greed and fear, fear always wins and gambling cannot do much provide against general cluelessness. So the wager is likely to fail. I know this guy is also real.

      And guess what there are going to be millions of people of the kind I described above.”

      Well ,your prediction has been demolished by the Military action across the LOC by India in retaliation for the Uri terror attack, just shows that one should be very careful about putting out sweeping and derisive statements.

  2. Vihan says:

    Hopefully this attitude will also be present while dealing “proportionately” with China as they have done to us.

  3. Tom says:

    Helicopters were used?

    How was their loud noise masked?

    • The helo noise wasn’t masked. But the points of ingress were presumably chosen on the weakness of the AD radar coverage in those areas spread over a 270 kms front and, in any case, the helos were flying nap of the earth. Moreover, it was just 2 kms across the Line of Control, and Pakistani troops, used to hearing their own and Indian helos at night, must have assumed that these were (1) their own, or (2) Indian helos on the other side of the LoC.

    • kaniskharsh says:

      In addition to what BK has said, the Indian army had moved some heavy duty EW equipment into the area. So radar jamming would also have been used. Apart from that, diversionary artillery and small arms fire would also have used to mask the ingress and egress of the SF units.

  4. Everyone is glad this was successful and soldiers returned safely. There was news about two mine injuries though. It hurts to see our soldiers having to carry on with one hand tied and being limited to chaukidari on our side of LC so this would be good for national morale.

    I hope this becomes a regular affair and preemption becomes the new norm. Hopefully this was already done in past, may not be frequent but quite likely done before.The public acknowledgement of this action is clearly a message to citizens and to those who come out with terms like ‘strategic restraint’.

    As per news reports Cartosat imagery has been key in planning this operation. Glad to hear of this development in our capabilities. Should not be easy to pin point make shift ‘launch pads’.

    What is likely to be Pakistani response? More terror? Will India mange to keep pressure to negotiate and dialogue off? Was the message for Pakistan(which will not change) or Pakistan’s friends?

    I am glad the Elephant broke one shackle of ‘strategic restraint’ imposed by the tamers.

  5. andy says:

    With these surgical strikes by India on terrorist launch pads in POK and open announcement to the world, Pakistan’s nuclear bluff has been called and how.Crossing the LOC is a red line that was not breached even at the height of the Kargil war.In the past,even if some cross border covert action was undertaken by India it wasn’t announced to the world in such an open manner.

    That Pakistan has been rattling the nuclear saber for quiet sometime now is obvious, it’s also obvious that the nuclear bogey has weighed on the Indian establishments mind,preventing cross border strikes during the Kargil war and ever since.This is the reason no punitive strikes were undertake despite the gravest provocations like the Parliament attack,26/11 Mumbai and numerous others.It was high time this bluff was called because its Pakistan that will have to deal with the consequences.As American strategic analyst, Ralph Peters, the author of Looking for Trouble, says: “Let India deal with Pakistan. Pakistan would have to behave responsibly at last. Or face nuclear-armed India. And Pakistan’s leaders know full well that a nuclear exchange would leave their country a wasteland. India would dust itself off and move on.”

    Islamabad is thus now faced with the cold reality that India is prepared to undertake offensive operations in retaliation for terror strikes.Since India has declared it will not resort to a nuclear first strike, the onus is on Pakistan and its patrons – the US and China. A South Asian nuclear exchange has the potential to spiral out of control, sucking in China, the US, the Islamic world and Russia. That would drive the global economy right over the cliff. Therefore, argues strategic expert Kapila, “A nuclear conflict will take place in South Asia only if the United States wants it and lets Pakistan permissively cross the nuclear threshold.”Thats not going to happen anytime soon

  6. &^%$#@! says:

    Very fine article. This move by the Modi regime is a pleasant change from the past. Unless I am reading too much between the lines, this statement by Gen. H. S. Lidder in:
    is significant: ““We have had strikes earlier, but those were mostly local…. This is the first time that strikes were carried out as a national policy, which is significant.”. “Hardy” Lidder was GOC of the Rajouri based Romeo Force and an invaluable asset in Doval’s prior successes in Kashmir. The start is good for a change, but the Indian policy should be to disrupt the peace of mind of the concerned Pakistani army brass and the terrorist leaders.

  7. &^%$#@! says:

    This is interesting. The GoI denies that helicopters were employed in the recent operations:

  8. satyaki says:

    Bharat Sir,

    Hope Agni-5 and K-4 testing resume as well…..If NaMo can break free of western pressure on this mater, he should do so on missile testing as well. After all, no sanctions came after MMS tested 2 Agni 5’s and a K-4.

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