Indo-Pak Relations : Way Ahead
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Issue Net Edition | Date : 10 Oct , 2016

Under tremendous pressure of its population to act following the Uri attack, in which the nation lost its 18 brave soldiers (the death toll has already reached 20 with two soldiers succumbing to their injuries in last 15 days) and the frenzy generated by the media, the BJP Govt finally acted on 29 Sep 2016 with a strike on seven terrorist camps inside POK and claimed to have killed 38 terrorists. Two Pakistani soldiers lost their lives in the cross LC firing that was carried out to support the special forces personnel who were tasked to carry out the strike.

A brief sequence of events of 10 days following 18 Sep 2016 would help in understanding the action taken by the Army better. Immediately after the Uri attack, a series of meetings were held and presentations given to the Prime Minister and his cabinet colleagues to weigh the options available to force Pakistan to reign in the terrorists.

Pakistan has been the most unreliable and wily neighbour that one could have…

During the meetings it possibly emerged that a reconciliatory approach adopted by the Govt over last two years after every militant attack was being seen by the terrorist organisations and their mentors within Pakistan as a sign of weakness. It was soon realised that the Uri attack was different from the other terrorist attacks which targeted the civilian installations/personnel or at worst the Central Armed Police Forces (CAPF). Targeting the Army’s Brigade HQ/units and causing a heavy damage was the proverbial last straw on the camel’s back. Not only had it claimed a huge loss of life, its audacity to strike an army unit was unacceptable. The media, including the social media, created a frenzy never seen before, urging the Govt to act decisively.

It is very unfortunate that the relations between India and Pakistan have remained marred by acrimony, particularly over Kashmir, ever since the two got independence in 1947. A further irritant that got added to Pakistan’s bitterness was the India assisted independence of Bangladesh. During these 69 years Pakistan has done everything – fought four wars with India, supported insurgency in Punjab, hijacked a flight in exchange for release of some of the most dreaded terrorists under India’s control, attacked the Indian Parliament, killed hundreds of innocent people in a large number of attacks on Indian cities like Delhi, Mumbai, Ahmadabad and others, besides conducting thousands of terrorist strikes on security forces and civilians all over J & K – to destabilise and weaken India.

Pakistan has been the most unreliable and wily neighbour that one could have since it has disregarded all treaties – it has violated almost all provisions of the Shimla Agreement – and stabbed India in the back every time a friendly hand has been extended towards it. Kargil War following Mr AB Vajpayee’s Bus journey to Lahore, where ‘Lahore Declaration’ was ratified for peace and stability, and the attack on the Indian Parliament following the Agra Summit, which was organised to resolve long-standing issues between the two countries, bear testimony to her attitude and designs. The Uri attack has been in continuation of this strategy on the part of Pakistan. This time around, however, Pakistan had misread Indian intentions and gone beyond the limit of tolerance exhibited thus far.

PM’s cryptic statement that the killings of our soldiers will definitely by avenged and a lesson will be taught to the perpetrators of this violence at a time of our choosing was received both by the domestic audience as well as by Pakistan as routine saber-rattling.

Two other events had occupied considerable space in the media before Uri happened. One, the 7th Central Pay Commission (CPC) award and the step motherly treatment given by it to the Services forcing the three Service Chiefs to withhold the implementation of the award in the Armed Forces. Having failed to get the Defence Minister to meet five non negotiable demands/anomalies, the Chiefs were waiting for an audience with the Prime Minister for his intervention. The three Service Chiefs met the Prime Minister in the afternoon of 24 Sep 2016 to review the security situation. However, many felt that the meeting was held to discuss the grievances of the Armed Forces with regard to the award of the 7th CPC. The second was the impending elections in Uttar Pradesh and Punjab during the first half of next year which the BJP wants to win at any cost. A section of the society, duly supported by media, was also propagating that the Prime Minister was more interested in building his image in the international arena than doing enough to solve the internal problems of the country, be it the Patidar agitation in Gujarat or the Jat Andolan of Haryana or the water crisis between Karnataka and Tamil Nadu or solving the latest problem in the Kashmir Valley and so on.

The Prime Minister’s cryptic statement that the killings of our soldiers will definitely by avenged and a lesson will be taught to the perpetrators of this violence at a time of our choosing was received both by the domestic audience as well as by Pakistan as routine saber-rattling. While the Prime Minister’s overall popularity has remained considerably stable over last two years of BJP’s rule (as per US based Pew Research Centre’s latest survey published in Sep 2016, 81 percent Indians hold a favourable view of Mr Modi as the Prime Minister), his handling of terrorism has been perceived as somewhat less favourable (only 61 percent people approve of his handling of terrorism) due to continuation of the policy of strategic restraint with regard to Pakistan. Intense pressure on the Govt exerted by the media and the sentiments of the population expressed through social media this time around forced the Govt to act without any delay.

The Govt’s strategist concluded during the meetings held that a quick retaliatory response would give the Govt tremendous dividend, in improving the image of the Prime Minister as a ‘no-nonsense’ leader pursuing a tough anti terror policy. The Prime Minister ordered the Chief of the Army Staff to carry out the task of avenging the killing of the soldiers as early as was operationally feasible. The Army which has always been keen on a policy of ‘Quid Pro Quo’ vis-a-vis Pakistan immediately accepted the challenge.

One has to accept that our humiliation was complete when Uri happened. While the whole nation felt bad, the army felt awful at the indignation. The nation and the Govt salvaged its pride by its military carrying out the surgical strike.

The attention of Pakistan and the international community was diverted from the military preparations by carrying out certain activities which were given wide coverage in the media. The Govt went overboard in informing the nation, through the media, about its consideration of options to punish Pakistan by cancelling the MFN status granted to it, abrogating the Indus Water Treaty between India and Pakistan, diplomatically isolating Pakistan, cancelling all cultural and social interactions with her, granting political asylum to the Baloch leaders and so on. To add to all these, the Indian Foreign Minister went to UN General Assembly to declare Pakistan a terrorist state. There were heated debates in the media where speaker after speaker were talking of the soft peddling of the issue by the Govt. All this acted as a good deception while the Army was preparing plans to carry out the ‘surgical strike’ in POK.

The strike took place on 29 Sep, precisely 11 days after the Uri attack. The whole nation burst out in jubilation on getting the news of the Indian Army having killed two (nine by some accounts) soldiers and 38 militants. The effect of the Army’s action has been exactly as was anticipated. The euphoria of the common man and its manifestation through the media has been unparalleled in the recent past. The media which had labelled the Govt weak for inaction just a few days back, hailed the Prime Minister as the ‘lion with a chest measuring 112 inches’, as the strongest leader that the nation has ever produced and India as the strongest nation which will, hereafter, obliterate the existence of anybody who tries to act cheeky with it.

While the former Chief of Army Staff, General Bikram Singh went on air to declare that similar surgical strikes had taken place in the past also, under the previous Govt, they were never publicised as has been done this time. And that is where the crux of the whole problem lies. Agreed that the Govt did not like to be pushed, cowed down and insulted by regular attacks by the Pakistan’s ISI, through its proxies in the form of terrorists, and therefore, acted by launching its military to eliminate some of the terrorists, it should have desisted from shouting at the top of its voice to announce to the whole world that we have done it. It is always good to act to protect one’s honour and pride, but it is equally bad to publicise its military activities in the open domain unless the two nations go on an all out war. Even in war, publicity of actual operations conducted may jeopardise the future operations and is done only when it is to be carried out as part of the propaganda.

Knowing the modus operandi adopted by the terrorists in the past from Mumbai to Malegaon and Delhi to Doda one is quite certain that a soft target like a population centre, crowded place – private or public – may be attacked.

One has to accept that our humiliation was complete when Uri happened. While the whole nation felt bad, the army felt awful at the indignation. The nation and the Govt salvaged its pride by its military carrying out the surgical strike. Now, consider how would have the Pakistan army felt whose territory and defences had been violated by our Special Forces to strike, deep inside Pakistan, at the militant training camps. How would have the terrorists, who consider themselves fearless, taken this blow in their guts? They obviously feel as humiliated, if not more, as we felt when our soldiers were killed inside our own territory. To add insult to injury, the Indian national media has started a relentless campaign of unsavoury debates and repulsive utterances by all and sundry in which extremely offensive language is being used, provocative cartoons and jokes are being bandied about and unrealistic free advice is being doled out to one and all, whether one needs it or not.

The moot point is where is this sort of media diatribe going to lead us. A more responsible behaviour on the part of the media would have been to report the matter, but not make it an issue as if its whole existence hangs on this one news item, particularly so because it was a military campaign. The Govt on its part should have broken the news to the media, but also cautioned it not to blow it beyond proportion.

The Pakistani army and the terrorist organisations within Pakistan must be seething in anger at the loss they have suffered. Let no one think that they are not going to strike back and will accept this indignation silently. They too must have been told to avenge the insult at a time of their choosing. If that be so, was the action taken by the Indian Army wrong? Certainly not.

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5 thoughts on “Indo-Pak Relations : Way Ahead

  1. I read Lt Gen N S Bawa’s write up and find it precise and commendably reflective with prescription that he has offered as welcome.Its an intellectual attempt to trace the trajectory of Indo-Pak relations and its evolutions till the surgical strike following Uri attack on Indian army unit. In one of my recent writing published in a Bengali daily I also commented upon the need that aveging Uri attack is acceptable but our political think tanks must engage with the issue with systematic labour and expertise instead of luke warm attitude which would not help us any further.We need more home work to consolidate our position on ground.
    However,I would love to receive such inputs and analytical feed.

  2. This should have been done a long time ago. The govt should not have gone gaga at the cost of the Military. They should have kept quiet for a few days, waited for the Pakistani response and then announced the strike, this would have been more meaningful.

  3. Would the General please explain how “surgical strike” is defined in the military context? For example, if there is shelling on border army posts, or cross-border attack by army personnel by moving in for a short while, do these actions qualify as surgical strike? I have come across the categorization of surgical strike only for devastating air attack.

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