The Uri massacre will prove to be an acid-test for Modi’s leadership skills

Unless costs are imposed on Pakistan, it will not recognize the futility of being at war with India.
The Uri massacre will prove to be an acid-test for Modi’s leadership skills
The Uri massacre will prove to be an acid-test for Modi’s leadership skills
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By Kumar Ankit & Alok Bhatt 

Seventeen coffins will be flown to various parts of the country from Srinagar today. Seventeen funerals will take place with full military honours across India. Buglers will play the “Last post” seventeen times and seventeen families will not see their men ever again. Not to forget the twenty comrades of the fallen heroes, who are battling death in Srinagar’s Army hospital.

That’s Uri for you.

Reaction to the news of this dastardly attack has mostly been on expected lines – expressions of shock, horror and anger, with some calling for revenge and peaceniks calling for restraint. The country's top leadership has promised action, and military strategists, true to their profession, have suggested various military options. Social media, not to be left behind, has taken sides on the basis of ideological and political affiliations.

Time alone will decide if Uri will becomes a watershed moment of Indian military and political history, or gets added to the list of various incidents, as did Kaluchak in 2002 and Pathankot in 2012. The key to the future is in the hands of one man - PM Narendra Modi.

With the death of 17 men in Uri, the number of those fallen to Islamic terror bullets in Kashmir, since the advent of terrorism in 1988, has gone up to 6,249 (source: South Asia Terrorism Portal). This number, stretched over 28 years, may look small, but is not far behind when compared with the total war casualties during India’s 4 wars with Pakistan - 7,500 (spread over 583 days). The quoted terror fatalities do not take into account 1874 men (wounded and killed) during 10 months long Operation Parakram.

Since yesterday, almost every military expert is calling Uri an act of war, so one can’t help but wonder that what constitutes war for experts?

If it is about the number of deaths of men in uniform, then as evident from above, almost 15,000 uniformed men have laid down their lives since 1948, majority of them in post-1988 proxy wars. If it is about the nature of attacks, then we have seen far worse attacks in the form of 26/11 or the attack on the Indian Parliament. In reality, Pakistan has not stopped being at war with India ever since the day it came into existence. 

What started on October 22, 1947 as a ‘tribal attack’ continues till today. Neither have they changed their modus operandi, nor have they lowered their perceived enmity for India. It is India, that has always remained under an illusion that peaceful coexistence is possible. Pakistan has only utilised the relatively calmer phase — resulting from India’s policy of living in denial— to build on its capabilities, while adding more to its already high hate quotient.

Uri is a manifestation of Pakistan’s hate for India, and much of that is supported by the sheer confidence Pakistan has in its capabilities. How else can one explain the act of Pakistan sending four of its citizens across the LOC for attacking brigade HQ of world’s 2nd largest standing army in the world? Don’t forget that 14 of the 17 brave-hearts were burnt alive, after their tents were set on fire by terrorists using incendiary bombs. In the past, the same country sent its men to attack India’s parliament, as also its commercial capital. Pakistan and its rulers know that they can attack India and its interests with impunity.

As against Pakistan, India appears to be a country suffering from a perennial problem of analysis-paralysis, completely bereft of confidence in its own capabilities. Our lack of confidence is evident from the fact that while we call for imposition of economic sanctions against Pakistan, we forget that the same Pakistan enjoys our MFN status since 2006, something that has never been reciprocated. Pakistan, by continuing to act as an irresponsible player, has managed to severely limit India's options, thus leading to creation of a false “Nash equilibrium” like situation for India, whereby Indian policymakers have come to accept a fact that India has no incentive in deviating from the chosen strategy.

Added to India’s confidence problem is the opinion of the naysayers’ block who refuse to accept that Pakistan is at war with India. They cite economic costs of war as an argument but forget that maintaining peace with a warring neighbor comes at even higher costs, both human and economic. For this vocal group calling for restraint in such a climate, we are reminded of Bhyrappa's famous words from Parva, “Cowardice always comes in the garb of dharma and sanctimony.”

Coming back to the strategy, it is clear that the Indian policy apparatus needs a shake-up to help it come out of its own sense of equilibrium state. Unless costs are imposed on Pakistan, it will not recognise the futility of being at war with India. What costs can be imposed and to what degree is something that PM Modi will have to decide. But one thing is sure; pressure on Mr. Modi is set to increase further as TV cameras will start beaming visuals of grieving families receiving the body of their men. Managing Uri fallout is the biggest test of his leadership and answers to the questions, this test poses, lies in the following shloka from Gita:

स्वधर्ममपि चावेक्ष्य न विकम्पितुमर्हसि I

धर्म्याद्धि युद्धाच्छ्रेयोऽन्यत्क्षत्रियस्य न विद्यते II

(Besides, considering your duty as a warrior, you should not waver. Indeed, for a warrior, there is no better engagement than fighting for upholding of righteousness)

As the buglers start playing the “Last Post” to bid adieu to 17 fallen men of Uri, its haunting melody will converge and resonate in the ears of the occupant of 7RCR, giving him several sleepless nights. It is Modi’s acid test of leadership.

Note: The views expressed here are the personal opinions of the author.

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