After the terrorist strike in Pulwama, is war even an option?

Yes: Gurmeet Kanwal

No: Ajai Sahni

It’s complicated: Manmohan Bahadur


Gurmeet Kanwal

Our conventional deterrence has failed. It is necessary to initiate strong military measures

The terrorist attacks in Pulwama, Pathankot, Uri and Nagrota, among others, are part of Pakistan’s low-intensity limited war on the Line of Control (LoC) since 1947-48 and its 30-year-old proxy war to bleed India through a thousand cuts.

Proportionate reaction

India should resist a knee-jerk emotional reaction to this grave provocation, which unquestionably crossed its threshold of tolerance, to satisfy an enraged public. Instead, the response should be part of a comprehensive long-term, national-level strategy to counter Pakistan’s proxy war. The aim should be to raise the cost for Pakistan’s deep state — the army and the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) — for waging its proxy war, with a view to eventually making the cost prohibitive. The response should be proportionate and multidisciplinary in approach, comprising diplomatic, economic and military measures. It should include overt and covert actions.

What if miscalculation on either side leads to war? Military theorist Carl von Clausewitz theorised that war is an instrument of state policy. Today, some analysts believe that, because of the destructive power of modern weapons, war is no longer a viable option unless the most vital interests of a state are threatened.

The object of defence preparedness of an appropriate level is to deter war and, if deterrence breaks down, to fight and win. Since the victory over Pakistan in 1971, the Indian armed forces have succeeded in deterring a major war, with the exception of the localised Kargil conflict of 1999.

However, India’s conventional deterrence has failed to deter Pakistan’s proxy war and state-sponsored terrorism and it is now necessary to initiate strong military measures to prevent future terrorist strikes being launched from Pakistani soil. These measures should be carefully calculated to minimise the risk of escalation and must avoid collateral damage to the extent possible.

The military’s aim should be to inflict punishment on the Pakistan army deployed on the LoC and terrorist training camps and related infrastructure in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK). For each new act of state-sponsored terrorism, the scale and the intensity of the punishment inflicted should be increased by an order of magnitude.

Military operations should include artillery strikes with guns firing in the ‘pistol gun’ mode to destroy bunkers on Pakistani army posts on the LoC with minimum collateral damage; and Smerch and Pinaka rocket and missile strikes with precision-guided munitions (PGMs) on brigade and battalion HQ communications centres, logistics infrastructure, ammunition dumps and key bridges on major rivers. Trans-LoC attacks by troops should be limited to raids by special forces and border action teams like the surgical strikes launched after the Uri military camp was hit in September 2016. Brigade-level attacks or larger infantry attacks must be avoided at least to begin with. The employment of fighter aircraft, particularly those armed with PGMs, launched from a stand-off range on the Indian side of the LoC is also a viable military option. As long as the international boundary in Punjab, Rajasthan and Gujarat is not crossed by Indian Air Force aircraft, escalation by Pakistan is unlikely.

Covert operations

Counter-proxy war operations should be supplemented by covert operations. Since the remaining roots of militancy are now in Pakistan and PoK, and Pakistan is not inclined to bring to justice the leaders of terrorist organisations like the Lashkar-e-Taiba and the Jaish-e-Mohammed, terrorists they call ‘strategic assets’, they must be neutralised through covert operations.

Gurmeet Kanwal is former Director, Centre for Land Warfare Studies, New Delhi