India | Surgical strike: India's changing counter-terror strategy

Surgical strike: India’s changing counter-terror strategy

Pema Tseten December 30, 2016 9:21 PM (UTC+8)
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In the wee hour of 29 September, India’s army crossed the Line of Control (LoC) and launched surgical strikes on terrorist launch-pads in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK), killing an uncertain number of terrorists, including some Pakistani soldiers. The strike came at such a time when India was looking to respond to an Uri attack that killed 18 Indian soldiers and also to avert the continuing and increasing infiltration across the porous Indian borders. The strike posed a successful posture of Indian counter-terrorism strategy and marks a huge shift in India’s Counter-terror strategy.

Surgical strikes are the execution of an operation in a precise manner that employs special operation forces with a swift and targeted attack on specific targets to seize, destroy, capture, exploit, recover or damage designated targets, or influence threats while ensuring minimum collateral damage. The strike is carried either unilaterally or collaboratively and is aimed to neutralize the targets from getting into full blown war. The strike is carried out via the means of air power where the special operation teams are dropped or through swift ground operations by sending the teams or both in order to prevent and neutralize the threats.

In the context of India, surgical strike has been a key feature in the current India’s counter-terror strategy and the result has also been fruitful. The successful surgical operation in Northeast India bordering Myanmar and the other in LOC, Kashmir proves to the point that surgical strikes bring a new impetus to the India’s counter-terror strategy that can divert and weaken the terror threats. The strike has helped in dissuading and deterring the terror threats and cross-border infiltration to the minimum level.

In a way, the surgical strike breaks the traditional direction of the Indian counter-terror strategy from being ‘restraint’ to ‘action.’ India’s counter-terror strategy in the past has always been passive with no tangible result on the ground. A lack of a comprehensive policy in addition to the lack of political consistency, lack of political consensus, lack of operational capacity, and lack of operational coordination has added a constraint on the effectiveness of India’s counter-terror strategy. Barring few successful results achieved by India through its counter-terrorism policies like peace in Mizoram, Nagaland and Punjab (though there are efforts to re-kindle terror threat) there lies a continued failure to prevent and anticipate the terror threats and attacks.

The two audacious attacks, one on the Indian parliament in 2001 and the other in Mumbai in 2008 have brought into questions the security preparedness and the effectiveness of India’s counter-terror policy and mechanisms in providing timely and actionable performance. In addition, the rings surrounding the counter-terror operation greatly lacks the consistency, co-ordination and capacity in anticipating and preventing the terror threats. India’s counter-terror consists of multi-layered set up including the state police, the national intelligence community, security agencies, Para-military forces and the army. In the case of operations any attempt by the central government to mount an offensive strategy has invariably been scuttled due to lack of domestic political consensus and other restrictions such as inter-agency rivalry, the absence of centralized decision making and assessment system. Moreover, ‘strategic restraint’ has been the key menu on India’s counter-terror action with limited timely action.

However, the new government under Prime Minister Narendra Modi has greatly altered the looks of India’s counter-terrorism strategy, mechanism, and policy. In fact, counter-terrorism is the significant gray area where Modi extensively pitches his concerns at national and international levels. The range and the extent of counter-terror agreements and pacts that India has signed with different nations significantly assert terrorism as a major global challenge that cannot be ignored. Modi has frequently been pitching for enhancing counter-terror cooperation with all the nations to tackle the major global challenge of terrorism.

The two surgical strikes, one along Northeast India and Myanmar border and the other at the LOC, Kashmir, therefore, assert as one of the defining features of new India’s counter-terror strategy in tackling terrorism in the interest of national security. The two surgical strikes in a way shift India’s adopted posture of peaceful retaliation that has been a key feature in India counter-terror doctrine. They made a big statement that India will not sit quietly in the face of adversity and it will act to neutralize any threat to the country. Moreover, as the world is plagued by terror threats Modi is taking the full potential and sentiments in abiding and putting India at the centre of counter-terror cooperation keeping in view the geostrategic location of the region. Furthermore, in the recent time, India’s plans to re-establish the National Counter Terrorism Centre (NCTC), which were first introduced during the UPA government’s regime. Under the NCTC, the operational wing will have the power to arrest and search under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA). This will add a significant change in the counter-terror strategy.

As such the two surgical strikes have elevated the role of India in countering the terror threats at national and international levels. The strike posed a message that India no longer remains restrained by the terror threats and it can alter its strategy with the changing needs of the national security. Indeed the surgical strike came at such a point when India was dismayed by the constant border infiltration from its two wings of Northeast and Northwest region. The strike provided a touch of ‘don’t dare to’ into the minds of the extremists and terrorists who are constantly infiltrating through the porous borders and inflicting violence.

Pema Tseten
Pema Tseten is pursuing Ph.D. in International Relations from Sikkim University.
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