If the Mumbai terror attack of 2008 was the symbol of Indo-Pak tension during Manmohan Singh’s tenure as Prime Minister, for Modi it’s been a militant attack on an army brigade headquarters in Uri, Jammu and Kashmir on September 18. The Uri attack led the Indian Army to conduct surgical strikes inside Pakistan-occupied Kashmir on September 29 – the first time Delhi admitted to crossing the Line of Control since it came into being in 1972. The harsh Indian reaction was unexpected but not unjustified given the scale of the Uri attack: 19 soldiers died and the assault was the deadliest against Indian security forces in Kashmir in two decades.
The attack on the Indian Army camp in Uri is not an isolated incident. Just three months earlier, there was an attack on Central Reserve Police Force personnel near Pampore that killed eight jawans. In December, 2015, militants struck at the Indian Army’s 31 Field Regiment Ordinance Camp, also in Uri. One Lieutenant Colonel and seven soldiers of the Army along with one assistant sub inspector and two constables of the Jammu and Kashmir Police were killed. In fact, although it's only been a week since India carried out its surgical strikes, militants have already attacked two Indian military camps in Kashmir since then.
These incidents represent a change in Pakistan’s approach to “bleed India through a thousand cuts”. While earlier, Rawalpindi was more than willing to attack Indian civilians, Indian policy and internal censure has forced it to scale back on its support to terror that harms non-combatants. However, its support to militants attacking the Indian security forces still seems to continue.
Changing the game
At the turn of the millennium, civilians casualties were approximately double that of Indian security forces. Within 15 years, the situation had been reversed: now Indian security forces killed were 2X that of civilian casualties. This, along with the fact that both civilian and security personnel casulaties have gone down by 93% in the same period, shows how the situation has changed in Jammu and Kashmir – even if the media and public mood don’t necessarily reflect this sea change.
Defence expert Manoj Joshi traces this change in strategy back to the Mumbai terror attack of 2008. “There was a lot of pressure on Pakistan after Mumbai 2008 in which they attacked civilians and not combatants, so they have refined their strategy to take on the Indian security forces,” he said.
Apart from the international pressure, Indian successes against terror have also forced Pakistan’s hand. “In Kashmir, there is now a lot of intelligence available with the Indian forces which has gone a long way in reducing casualties," said Ajai Sahni, executive director of Institute for Conflict Management and the South Asia Terrorism Portal. “This allowed Indian forces to dominate, which has been helped by the expanded role of the Jammu and Kashmir police.”
“Pakistan wants to paint the Kashmir issue as a freedom struggle,” said Sahni. “Naturally, in this case, assaults on Indian military targets rather than civilians will help their strategy."
Terrorism and militancy
However, the Indian success in forcing Pakistan to change tack is reflected neither in the media nor the public mood. This has partly to do with the fact that the India media mixes up its semantics, confusing terror (where the targets are non-combatants) with the phenomenon of militancy – where targets could include combatants. “In India, we conflate militancy and terrorism but this isn’t how it’s seen internationally,” argued Manoj Joshi. “When you attack combatants and symbols of the state, in the international definition, this isn’t considered terrorism.”
Joshi added: “While Uri had a sharp reaction within India, since civilians weren’t targeted the international reaction was much more muted than if there has been a terror attack against civilians. Pakistan, of course, knows this and this accounts for their change in strategy to target military camps.”
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