When Allen Welsh Dulles, the first civilian Director of CIA, coined the term ‘Plausible Deniability’, he was only renaming the subterfuge known for centuries to King and commoner alike. Pakistan has used it as an instrument of state policy for decades now. The one profession where it was, traditionally, held to be beneath contempt was the profession of soldiering. But in Pakistan, the soldier is the spook, the government, the biggest trader and the biggest landlord, besides many other things. It was inevitable that the army which is a Super State, something beyond even the Deep State, would use this subterfuge as a military doctrine as well. For it to have seen Uri as just another instance of the use of the same doctrine seems quite plausible.
But Pakistan, via the agency of its military establishment, may just have overplayed its hand this once. Its show of injured innocence is fooling nobody. The denial is implausible. The United States, the UK, Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Ban Ki-moon may not have named Pakistan in their condemnation of Uri but the tone and tenor of their reaction leave no doubt about their being cognizant of the identity of the perpetrator. The smoking gun is unmistakable. That it was a commando operation is certain and there are no other belligerent commandos in the area except those whose trail leads back to Pakistan. Some Pakistani commentators have called it a false flag operation. Their tribe is well-known. As per that tribe, 9/11 was an internal CIA job and the Holocaust never happened.
The public anger is palpable, ready to boil over anytime. A Pew research survey puts the percentage of those Indians wanting a military response to terror at 62 per cent. Post Uri, the percentage must have risen considerably. Indeed, there is outrage in some quarters over the lack of immediate reprisal. That Pakistan will be made to pay for this latest misadventure is a given, what with the assertion to that effect having been made by the Prime Minister himself.
But is mortar shelling or even surgical strikes on formations that have almost certainly been sanitized of terror modules by now, enough of an answer? We lost 17 soldiers in the cowardly attack by Pakistanis at Uri. They may lose 20 soldiers and as many civilians in collateral damage but do they really care about that? The dead men left behind in Kargil, unclaimed and disavowed, are testimony that they do not. For the army brass of Pakistan, their soldiers are as expendable as the surrogates they use in Kashmir, the civilians that get killed in Kashmir or, for that matter, their own civilians. In their naked lust for the land of Kashmir and historical hurt over the 1971 defeat, they are not likely to worry about some casualties were India to react in the manner they expected or planned for. Actually, the pain must be felt by the military brass, not by the soldiers wearing tin hats.
Let us not make any mistake. India and Pakistan are already at war, as indeed they have been for over quarter of a century. This litany of state actors and non-state actors is mere embroidery. Pakistan foisted an asymmetric war on India in 1990 and India must now, after all the blood and gore, deceit and duplicity, respond in like currency. Only demarches and dossiers are not going to be enough. India must make Pakistan understand “if you prick us, do we not bleed?” by making it bleed in turn.
Apart from a robust diplomatic response, downgrading the ‘Most Favoured Nation’ status India has given to Pakistan in 1996 without any reciprocal gesture on the part of the latter India can consider multiple other possible economic sanctions that choke the terror funding without hurting common masses. India should also consider military options like scuttling the weapons delivery capability of Pakistan in whatever manner possible. In an asymmetric war, taking out some critical elements of the military establishment by covert means would be par for the course.