Jammu & Kashmir last week witnessed one of the worst terror strikes in memory.
Lt Gen DS Hooda, who retired as the chief of Northern Command and oversaw the surgical strike in 2016, spoke with Rohit E David on the options India has in dealing with this challenge:
What should be the nature and scope of India’s response over a two- to three-year time frame?
I think the response has to be in all fields: international pressure through other countries, United Nations, and also dealing with China which is blocking the designation of Masood Azhar as a global terrorist. A little more pressure should be put on the Pakistani army because they are the ones who are actually behind the whole terrorism business.
I would say the amount of pressure India has put on Pakistan till now has not been consistent. You have one cross border operation and nothing sort of changes. So we are seeing an increase in ceasefire violations, infiltration is continuing and (also) cyber-attacks. I don’t think doing one odd operation in two years is going to make them change their behaviour.
There’s speculation that India may go in for a second surgical strike. Do you feel it’s the right thing to do?
Whether you call it a second surgical strike or call it anything the fact is there has been a big terror attack. It is a fact that a terror group which is based in Pakistan has owned up responsibility. No longer can Pakistan say that they have nothing to do with this. Jaish-e-Muhammed has openly come and said that they have done this.
Obviously, India can’t just sit and say we won’t do anything. What is the nature of the action, who will do it, we can leave that debate out. I’m sure there will be some plan but action certainly has to be taken. How can you not take action? India should not worry about Pakistani retaliation. I think the army can deal with any retaliation. The message should be strong. I don’t think it’s time for an all-out war. We don’t need to go that far; some added pain on Pakistan army in a continuous manner combined with diplomatic pressure is where the answer lies.
In the current context, what are the lapses in security?
I don’t want to second guess anything because investigations will point that out. Some basic questions which are being asked are how were they able to get such a huge quantity of explosives? How did they create what appears to be a sophisticated IED? Were all the procedures in place to ensure that civilian vehicles don’t intermingle with CRPF convoys? Yes, there was some kind of lapse, let’s not point fingers.
Last year, you wrote that India’s challenge is to handle the internal dimension of the Kashmir problem. Could you elaborate?
We must not close our eyes to the problem in Kashmir, after all the terrorist who did this was a local terrorist. Over the last three to four years the number of local recruits into terror ranks has increased. The attacks on security forces have increased. Last year we have lost the maximum number of our security force personnel in the last 10 years. So, there is an internal problem. I think we need to look at that very seriously to see how these issues can be resolved. There is growing radicalisation. As long as there are problems simmering internally, Pakistan will continue to take advantage of it.
What is the precise nature of Pakistani interference in the current Kashmir unrest?
It’s total interference. The major strikes which have happened in the last three to four years, have all been done by terrorist groups who infiltrate specifically for carrying out attacks. There is firing along the line of control again; this is to aid infiltration. Funds are coming from across the border and there are talks that the expert who made the IED in this attack came from across the border. So, Pakistan is completely in this.
How would you interpret the dimension of religious radicalisation in Kashmir valley?
There is increase in radicalisation and we can’t shut our eyes to the fact that it has a religious content. The danger it poses is it can turn local terrorists into suicide bombers. We have not seen this kind of thing in the valley.
Has Islamic State made its presence felt in the valley?
I don’t think so, they don’t have a large or effective footprint. The organisations we should be concerned about are Jaish-e-Muhammed, Lashkare-Taiba and Hizbul Mujahideen. I don’t think Islamic State or al-Qaida have such a large presence here.