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What India’s surgical strike achieved, and what it didn’t?

by Pranay Kotasthane (@pranaykotas)

Having introduced an uncertainty in its response, it is perhaps better for India to reduce the vulnerability of its military establishments.

In the wake of the attacks on the Indian army base in Nagrota, familiar uncomfortable questions have come to the fore: is it the lack of intelligence support that’s making such attacks recur? Has the fragile situation in the Kashmir valley helped rejuvenate terrorist networks? Or, are obsolete security mechanisms making military installations vulnerable to repeated attacks? Despite the recent spate of attacks on military infrastructure, these sticky, fly-papery questions still haven’t found responses that will make them dissolve away.

Nevertheless, the Nagrota attack throws up a completely new question: what did the “surgical strikes” of 29th September achieve — is there a need to replicate such strikes after the Nagrota attacks or should that option be dispensed with?

To answer this question, let’s assess what the surgical strikes achieved, from the lens of the three affected parties — the domestic Indian audience, the Pakistani military—jihadi complex, and the Pakistani civilian leadership.

For many Indians, a consciously coordinated action involving various parts of the administrative machinery — military, diplomatic, and political — was a signal that India will now respond to terrorism at strategic or operational levels, and not merely at a tactical level. Given that the earlier response — a carefully calibrated “strategic restraint” policy had failed to attenuate the attacks from Pakistan, a more forceful quid-pro-quo alternative became a cause of hope for some, and of aggressive chest-thumping for others. After the Nagrota attacks, some groups in this domestic constituency will demand similar strikes, with an aim of institutionalising this strategy.

Second, the Pakistani military—jihadi complex (MJC) was taken by surprise — it was anticipating a tactical response, but not a coordinated operational response. Moreover, the publicly declared cross-LoC Indian raids largely received a thumbs-up from the international community, weakening the complex’s narrative.  Within the complex, the jihadi node was specifically targetted. However, the shallow raids didn’t dent the terrorists’ capacity in any significant manner — there are no terrorist camps at such small distances from the LoC, merely a few launch pads to help terrorist squads in their transit. The operation also did not cause any major loss to the Pakistani army and hence it chose to deny the incident rather than escalate immediately. Overall, the surgical strikes served a signalling purpose against the MJC, rather than a concrete blow to its capacities; it flustered the MJC but hasn’t deterred it. It proved to the MJC that India is capable of maintaining a dynamic conventional threshold and that India is not just limited to the option of tactical retaliation.

Third, the Pakistani civilian leadership was able to utilise the surgical strikes against the dominance of the MJC. Unsurprisingly, a news report claiming that the civilian government has directed the military leadership to act against militants came out immediately after India’s raids. Meanwhile, the civilian leadership kept championing the anti-India rhetoric — such posturing continues to remain popular in Pakistan, regardless of who is in the driving seat. The army’s carefully cultivated image as the ultimate protector of Pakistan’s ideological and geographical frontiers took a dent, and the civilian leadership cashed in on the opportunity.

What will be the impact of another cross-border raid on the three affected parties?
Projected as a strong rejoinder to Pakistan’s use of terrorism, the Indian government will be able to garner domestic support from many quarters to a repeat strike. However, the border states of Punjab and J&K will have to bear the brunt of any further escalation, threatening livelihoods and economic prospects in these states.

The MJC and the Pakistani civilian establishment will now be better prepared in anticipation of another Indian strike. So, it will be very difficult for India to inflict any damage using the same level of deployment. Other options of this nature include using artillery against bunkers from a vantage point while avoiding collateral damage, or the use of air to surface strikes or using short-range cruise missiles to strike terrorist hideouts. But each of these alternatives is likely to result in significant escalation on both sides.

Having introduced an uncertainty in its response, it is perhaps better for India to reduce the vulnerability of its military establishments. Recommendations of the Lt Gen Philip Campose Committee, constituted after the Pathankot attacks, need to be implemented. There is clear indication that the MJC has altered its strategy over the last two years, focusing on high-value Indian military establishments rather than cause large-scale civilian damages. The sub-conventional warfare level, where terrorists operate, has clearly narrowed across the world. A conventional response to a terrorist attack having mass civilian casualties will now be seen as a necessity to curb terror. The surgical strikes have helped reinforced this viewpoint. A variant of the strikes can be used to target high-value terrorist infrastructure if Pakistan returns to its policy of causing mass casualties.

For now, it is better that India focuses on its defences. Ultimately, India is better off putting both — a grand rapprochement or a full-scale war — on the back burner, while expending available capacity to launch economic reforms, rendering Pakistan irrelevant.

Pranay Kotasthane (@pranaykotas) is a Research Fellow at the Takshashila Institution.

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Drug-Terror Nexus: Pathankot attack

The recent terror attack at Pathankot has raised a concern over the imminent drug-terror cartel in the region. There is a  likelihood  of  arms and ammunitions pushed across the international border before the terror strike. The terrorist have entered the base on 1 January 2016 thereafter followed by an intense combing operation. The attack on Indian Consulate at  Mazar-i-Sharif in Afghanistan preceded the Pathankot air base attack and both these attacks pointedly confirm the hand of JeM (Jaish-e-Mohammed). Is the Border Security Force (BSF) not fully operational  in the region as Jammu and Kashmir is something that has to be seen. Is the emerging triangular drug-teror-money triad the probable reason for this lapse.

There is a flourishing narcotic network between Pakistan and Punjab. Lots of speculations on alleged  narcotic trade across the border to have played hand and glove in the attack.  Often drugs move at ease across the borders and then it is simply transported to  the mainland.  Despite Government measures to safeguard the border , this area continues to remain   primarily a conduit  for drug traffickers,  smuggling drugs and arms into India. There is huge money laundering and lobbying mafia which operates that could fuel the terror networks across the border.The border though heavily guarded continues to be a major apprehension for the Indian Government.

The drug-terror duality is growing menace and often terror groups tap this source as it is the most vulnerable and lucrative source.The combination of money traded against weapons could be a strong reason for the breach of security , thus synergising the    drug-money-weapons combination. The region is  famous for drug infiltration and notorious for heroin. Pathankot also has drug-deaddiction centre which could further testify this strong connections. Sprawling houses, multi-storeyed building dominate the area and could further act as a storage for the drugs before it reaches the market. There is a  noticeable youth population in Pathankot, who were possibly used in this racket. The attackers probably could have used this medium to transport heavy weapons across the borders.

There are challenges that India faces across the borders despite heavy patrolling and border fencining.  Due to geographical features there is no clear distinction or uniformity in this border creation.The 460 km long international border in Punjab is impenetrable and guarded. The recent terror attack at the Pathankot air base has raised major concerns on the border safety. There have been attempts made by the militant outfits to cross the border, a noticeable one was the gunning down of a militant who attempted to cross the border outpost in KMS Wala area near Ferozpur Sector of India’s Punjab on 5, September 2014. This confirms the fact that there are has been sporadic incidents of militants movement across the border.

The weapons used in the attack confirms that armaments  could have been transferred from Pakistan. There is a possible involvement of  several groups in this terror connection. The absence of latest technology to counter attacks could be one strong contending factors leading to security lapse. Several question remains unanswered, how efficient  is the  continuous and controlled operation across the border and the level of preparedness  in handling such terror strikes.

Priya Suresh is a research scholar with Takshashila Institution . She  tweets @priyamanassa.

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The Pathankot Attacks: The link between terrorism and the drug market



Punjab’s porous border, which has aided drug peddlers across the Golden Crescent, is now facilitating terrorism in the region.

The Pathankot Attacks have once again heightened the national security concerns in India, specifically in Punjab as terror has struck the region twice within twelve months. The entire episode raises serious concerns about the preparedness of Indian security forces. This article is primarily aimed at establishing a link between the terror attacks in Punjab and the drug smuggling rampant in the state. The porous border that Punjab shares with Pakistan topped with the lack of vigilance in the area has aided drug peddlers across the Golden Crescent. The same is now facilitating terrorism in the region.

First, the question arises on how the terrorists infiltrated the International border or the LOC, despite an alert and heightened security. There are speculative reports that terrorists may have entered from the same point which was exploited during the Gurdaspur attacks. Other reports suggest that the terrorists might have sneaked in from Bamial village in Pathankot, a spot covered in thick foliage and unfenced rivulets which is often used by drug peddlers. The Gurdaspur area for instance is quite close to the Pakistan border and lies between Ravi and Beas, a terrain that is vulnerable. Security forces already possess requisite gadgets like thermal imagers and radars to monitor activity in these areas. Therefore, such repetitive lapses hints at the ill preparedness of forces and possibly, the involvement of an insider.

Second, the fact that they could easily gain access into an airbase with such a large amount of ammunition makes one wonder if terrorists are bribing their way through the state. The air force base in Pathankot, spread over a vast 25km, houses strategic military equipment and an aerial fleet and is situated on the highway that leads to J&K. How is it that there were no fool proof security mechanisms at such a strategic base? Instead of ridiculing an SP who reported his abduction, why did authorities not kickstart the combing operations instantly?

The attack has come across as a big blow not only to the central government but also to the Punjab State government. It’s a brazen fact that Punjab’s notorious drug market has provided a breeding nest to an illegal arms trade racket and has also aided terrorism, both home grown and external. Punjab’s proximity to the Golden Crescent and around 550 km of shared border with Pakistan has made it a drug haven for smugglers. According to a study conducted by the Institute of Defence Studies and Analyses, porous borders have rendered areas like Gurdaspur and Amritsar prominent heroin collection centers.

Though the security forces were able to neutralize the terrorists after a long encounter, the security breach and the loss of life could have been further contained had the government acted swiftly on intelligence reports. Had the operation started right after the complaint by the SP, who was initially taken as a prisoner by the terrorists, valuable lives could have been saved.

It should also ring alarm bells for the Punjab police – unless it tightens its grip on the drug racket in the state and the allied arms trade, the state will remain an easy target for terrorists. The smuggling network in Punjab must be comprehensively curbed and the gaps in security must be plugged. Hopefully, after two successive security and intelligence failures, the state government will pull its act together on the security front.

Shikha Pathak is a Community Manager at The Takshashila Institution. Shikha tweets @ShikhaPathak15.

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