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Drone attacks and the factor of increasing the costs for the adversary

The drone attacks in Jammu have opened a new front of challenge for the Indian defence forces. The initial investigations have hinted at Pakistan’s role behind these attacks. The drone attacks targeted at the Jammu Air Force station were first of a kind. However, these were not totally unexpected as there were instances of around 250 sightings of drones at the Western front with Pakistan since 2019.

While the agencies are further investigating, these incidents must also be considered from the cost perspective. Three recent events and a series of steps on India’s part in the past few years highlight the cost angle in India-Pakistan relations. 

First, the drone attacks took place immediately after Prime Minister Narendra Modi met with the leaders of various political parties from Jammu and Kashmir on June 24. 

Second, there has been a sudden surge in terror attacks in Jammu and Kashmir. Since the declaration of ceasefire between India and Pakistan at the Line Of Control (LOC) in February, there was relative peace in the union territory. But the possibility to initiate democratic process in Jammu and Kashmir has met with a violent response from Pakistan-backed terrorists. Sopore, Parimpore and Pulwama witnessed terror incidents, before and after the meeting, in which the armed forces successfully neutralized the terrorists.  

Third, the drone attacks come parallel to India deploying 50,000 additional troops along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) even as the stand-off with China continues. 

It would be far-fetched to think that these three events and the drone attacks are a co-incidence. Confirmation of Pakistan’s role would further establish these drone attacks as an act of desperation. This desperation is the result of the costs that India has imposed over Pakistan since the past few years for backing terrorism.

Increasing the costs

Use of terrorism and non-state actors as a state policy by Pakistan has been a major security challenge for India over the decades. Inability to win a conventional war against India led to formulation of policy of thousand cuts by Pakistan’s political and military dispensation in the 1970s. 

Since the 1980s Pakistan has imposed huge costs on India by way of supporting terrorism, categorized as proxy war, in Jammu and Kashmir and also in other parts of India. While Indian armed forces have been valiantly dealing with these acts of state-sponsored terrorism, a question was always raised about India been unable to effectively respond to these attacks. The effective response implied increasing the costs for Pakistan to deter it from carrying out terror attacks in India.  

While on one hand the drone attacks signal diversification and advancement in the techniques of war, on the other hand, these attacks are also the results of India’s meticulous strategy against Pakistan-sponsored terrorism. It is noteworthy that since 2014, the terror attacks in India have been restricted to just Jammu and Kashmir with an exception of one attack in Pathankot, Punjab in 2016.

In the past few years India has adopted a proactive approach by following the policy of hot pursuit. This includes Operation All Out which was launched in 2017 to eliminate terrorists from Jammu and Kashmir. Apart from this operation, India conducted surgical strikes on terror camps across the LOC in response to the terror attack on army camp in Uri in 2016. In 2019, Indian Air Force carried out airstrikes on terror camps in Balakot in Pakistan. Also in 2019, the abrogation of Article 370 and 35A and changing the status of Jammu and Kashmir from a state to a union territory further gave the central government better control over administration. While these steps were necessary for the development of Jammu and Kashmir, it has been difficult for Pakistan to continue with its activities in an unbridled manner.

With infiltration becoming difficult and human cost rising due to Indian armed forces’ sustained operations against the terrorists, Pakistan’s relevance had started waning. So, India has been successful in increasing the costs for Pakistan. 

Implications

For India

The imminent challenge for India is to upgrade its defence systems to overcome this threat. After the drone attack, an anti-drone system has been installed at the Jammu Air Force station by the National Security Guard (NSG). The system includes radio frequency detector and soft jammers. However, India has a lot of catching up to do since the drone technology is evolving fast and is already being used in military applications and operations by several countries. India’s existing defence systems, especially radar systems are not equipped to counter the threat posed by drone. It takes years of planning and research and billions of rupees of investments to develop or acquire weapon systems. In a way, the drone attacks have mandated India to incur additional costs on its defence immediately. Drones also render the international border more porous and vulnerable. Drones, which reduce the risk of losing human lives, could be used increasingly by India’s enemies for information gathering, weapons supply or for targeted attacks. India, therefore, needs to act quickly to develop and acquire latest systems that are capable of countering this threat.

For Pakistan

Drone may seem like a cost-effective option for Pakistan but that may last only for a short period. Eventually, India would be better placed to tackle and neutralize these types of threats. If these drone attacks were meant to test India’s capability of facing a two-front war (one with Pakistan and the other with China), then Pakistan itself is not very comfortably placed. Any action from Pakistan border may invite a strong response from a non-hesitant India even if it is a limited strike. Besides, with the situation emerging in Afghanistan with the Taliban wreaking havoc, the Afghanistan-Pakistan border may soon become a security concern for Pakistan. In the present situation, Pakistan is not well-equipped to start or to deal with a two-front war. Also, after the Jammu drone attack, India immediately raised issue of the use of drones by terrorists at the United Nations General Assembly. Recently, the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) has retained Pakistan in the grey list. All put together, the cost-effective option would turn out to be an expensive one for Pakistan from both strategic and diplomatic points of view. 

While the drone attacks may have ushered in a new chapter of asymmetric warfare between India and Pakistan, but it could end up in India imposing more costs on Pakistan. The reason being that at least for now, the challenge for India is a uni-dimensional one with focus only shoring up the defence systems to neutralize this threat. The challenge for Pakistan is multi-dimensional since implications in these attacks attract international attention and possible financial sanctions on one hand. On the other the spillover effect of situation in Afghanistan could further raise the costs for Pakistan to sustain this cost-effective option. 



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Views expressed above are the author’s own.



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