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Surgical Strikes for National Security; Not Politics/Optics
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Issue Net Edition | Date : 02 Jul , 2018

On 29 September 2016, when Indian DGMO informed the country about Indian Army having launched a surgical strike against terrorist bases inside Pakistan, it exhibited Indian resolve to cross a mental barrier in the form of ‘Line of Control’, under a nuclear hang over. The necessity was well established as Pakistan continued to launch proxy war against India by infiltrating terrorists in India, targeting military camps besides causing casualties/atrocities to innocent population, including attacks on families of security forces in Uri and Pathankot. The brave soldiers, who executed it, would have never dreamt that their brave action can ever be made a subject of political gaming, in an era of vote bank politics by some irresponsible politicians, fuelled by some segments of hyperactive media. It is time we realize that some segments of our young 70 years old democracy, use right of speech in irresponsible manner, and ignore the responsibilities towards the country, national security and national interest, which goes along with it.

…surgical strike against terrorist bases inside Pakistan, it exhibited Indian resolve to cross a mental barrier in the form of ‘Line of Control’, under a nuclear hang over.

How Damaging are the Controversies over Surgical Strikes?

The fresh controversies and war of words has erupted after some video footage has been released by some segment of media. Every person holding a public office is duty bound to maintain confidentiality of official matters in his knowledge, by virtue of his position, and this responsibility is carried for life. In case of matters pertaining to national security, it has to be disseminated strictly on need to know basis. As security analyst and an Indian, the details about surgical strikes given by DGMO of Indian Army on 29th September 2016, is the only official version of the event, which the nation needed to know. The rest is perceptions/imaginations of various people/motor mouth politicians/TRP hungry media/ and personalities trying to grab the opportunity for getting limelight by displaying their vague knowledge of the event.

Some politicians chose to doubt the Armed Forces, which they know is the national instrument of last resort. They do not mind believing the adversary/terrorists for petty political gains ignoring the national interest. What DGMO had said is adequate information needed in public domain and any leakage of information beyond that is at the risk of lives of our brave officers and men, who may have to repeat such strikes, as Pakistan will continue to train and infiltrate terrorists into India, because a boiling Kashmir, and manifestation of threat from India gives Pakistan Army the reins of power in Pakistan, irrespective of whichever elected Government is in saddle to show sham democracy.

What did Surgical Strikes Achieve?

The statistics put out by various agencies shows that the violence level and terrorist activities did not come down by these strikes; hence many people argue that it did not serve any purpose. As a security analyst I would comprehend that those who expected that one such strike can ever force Pakistan Army to mend its ways were totally off the mark from realities of warfare. This action besides demonstrating firm intent of India to use national power, gave an important strategic signaling.

From the time Pakistan acquired tactical nukes, it was openly challenging that the moment Indian troops cross LC/IB it will respond with tactical nuke, thus giving an impression that it can continue proxy war undeterred by conventional superiority of India. India had to break this myth sometimes to prove that the space for conventional war exists. This was successfully done as India did enter Pakistani territory and Pakistan could not respond in a manner it advertised; hence they had no choice but to go on denial mode. This also gave an opportunity to test water with global community especially China that if India does hot pursuit of militants, will it earn negative criticism?

Some politicians chose to doubt the Armed Forces, which they know is the national instrument of last resort. They do not mind believing the adversary/ terrorists for petty political gains ignoring the national interest.

On both counts it was reasonably evident that no one is likely to support Pakistan in nurturing militants. The FATF ruling of declaring Pakistan ‘Grey’ also suggests the same. It can thus be seen that a group of tactical operations executed together in the surgical strikes, opened up more strategic options for India in future, besides testing the water.

Risk Analysis of Kashmir

In J & K the larger part of Jammu and Ladakh continues to be peaceful but the militancy in Kashmir attracts all the political limelight giving a negative impression about J&K. The waving of ISIS and Pakistani flags together with elimination of ISJK chief Dawood with three militants, are serious concerns in light of shrinked caliphate of ISIS, trying to find IS friendly places in the world to exist. When Kashmiri politicians talk of two time amnesty to stone pelters, never criticize militants causing atrocities to civilians, protect separatists spitting venom against the country besides refueling terror industry by terror funding,  it gives an impression that either they are terrorized or power hungry to an extent that they can sell off national interest. One month of NICO, despite good intentions, has not succeeded, helped terrorists in reviving their industry, finances, terrorize informers/ parents to get their children recruited, and lure some young men for recruitment, in absence of alternate carrier.

There is also a misinformation campaign going on to give an impression to global community that the security forces will shoot innocents during Governor’s rule and  certain human rights organizations are also involved in it, at the behest of Pakistan and separatists. The fact is that Indian security forces are the most tolerant force, which have never used heavy weapons against insurgents. They are professional forces, well aware of legal provisions, trained to avoid collateral damages hence innocents have no reasons to worry. The silver lining is that Operation All Out is showing results with elimination of LeT Divisional commander with two militants, followed by few more, by synergized operations of security forces. It will however need some more time for J & K to return to normalcy to switch back from Governor’s rule to democratically elected Government to function.

It’s time that all political parties to put national interest above their political interest, and leave out security forces, surgical strikes and issues related to national security from their election campaign.

What is the Way Out

•  The cancer of terrorism in Kashmir valley is a cancer requiring surgery. It cannot be treated by homeopathic treatment any more.

•  It’s time that all political parties to put national interest above their political interest, and leave out security forces, surgical strikes and issues related to national security from their election campaign.

•  A well thought, coherent, long term, policy on Kashmir is needed, because any wavering of stance can be construed as a weakness. ‘Operation All Out’ has to continue with full vigor. The NHRC, legal fraternity, motor mouth politicians, armchair tacticians and writers should weigh their actions against need to preserve national security and have confidence on the security forces, having tried everything else and failed in last so many decades.

•  While India expects the entire world to declare Pakistan a terror state, it is yet to declare it a terrorist state. Scrapping the ‘Most Favored Nation’ status accorded to Pakistan needs to be revisited.

•  We need to do capacity building of our defense forces, as we have been losing deterrence gradually due to inadequate attention over decades. Indian security forces need strike drones and modern surveillance equipment very urgently.

Chanakya has said that in statecraft overt and covert options have to be exercised together and the plans have to be divulged strictly on need to know basis. In matured democracy like US no politician ever asked prove killing of Osama Bin Laden from its Army/show his dead body/ or tries to know what CIA does. In France, after Paris attack President clamped emergency and no one from opposition/any Human Rights organization/legal fraternity questioned his decision. We also need to get together, synergise and support our Security Forces to overcome the Kashmir and Pakistan situation and leave them out of vote bank politics.

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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

Maj Gen SB Asthana

Chief Instructor, United Service Institute of India.

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2 thoughts on “Surgical Strikes for National Security; Not Politics/Optics

  1. 1. A good analysis, but stopped short of telling it bluntly. .
    2. A couple of comments:
    -Firstly: the term used – “surgical’ is incorrect. Going 500 m to 3 kms deep is not a “surgical” strike. Its a tactical operation. But some are 56″-inching it as if we have created another Bangladesh or taken back POK!! As rightly enunciated by the former Army Cdr Lt Gen DS Hooda, this excellent operation was required for “vindication” after the attacks on the Pathankot air base and Uri cantt.
    -Secondly: those who have served on the LC / the Valley will be able to confirm two things:-
    —that the levels of trans-LC shelling up to the Nov 2003 ceasefire was far more intense & surpassed anything that is happening now.
    —that even-post 2003, there have been a number of trans-LC raids. The only difference, perhaps, between this “surgical” and the earlier raids is that the number of targets were likely a bit more (~3). Thus, the “surgical” was more of the same – only, this time, there was much tom-tommimg for political gains.
    -Thirdly: Its been long said that we do not have a strategic culture. It is perhaps for this reason that many failed to understand why the earlier raids were not tom-tommed. Pakistan is country with a credible armed forces and a nuclear arsenal. The aim of such a raid by India is to inflict due punishment on the perpetrator. But when you publicize and politicize that punishment, it firms up intent in Pak to retaliate with the “assets” to salvage national pride. That”s why earlier, the “message” was conveyed on ground by the troops through their weapons and by the DGMO covertly to his counterpart through a phone-call. And that is how the levels of violence in the Valley had declined to near-normalcy by mid-2014. Thus, one reason (besides inept handling) the situation in the Valley has deteriorated is this tom-tomming.
    3. But lets be grateful that the politicians y decided to call it a “surgical” – and not medical or orthopedic or pathological or psychiatric

  2. Gen issues of contention.
    To quote you – it exhibited Indian resolve to cross a mental barrier in the form of ‘Line of Control’, under a nuclear hang over. I would debate that. We have carried out actions across the LOC before so the question of having a mental barrier was never there. The mental barrier exists at two levels – firstly at the level of the Government ( be it BJP or Congress) who is more involved at playing politics and wouldn’t like their agenda getting upset by issues they are not familiar with. Line of control violation and the so called Nuclear deterrent are not in consonance and not reciprocal actions. You mean to say that if we cross the LOC Pak will go ahead with its Nuclear Weapons – its absurd. There is a thresh hold that has to be crossed before a nuke button is touched. The Second Mental Barrier is at the level of the Generals of the Indian Army who tread a cautious path of pacifism and dont want to ruffle feathers while they are in charge. Driving with the hand brake on – we call it.

    The next issue – “From the time Pakistan acquired tactical nukes, it was openly challenging that the moment Indian troops cross LC/IB it will respond with tactical nuke, thus giving an impression that it can continue proxy war undeterred by conventional superiority of India.” Do you really expect Pakistan to start launching Tactical Nuclear weapons if we go across the LOC. You mean Pakistan is so dumb that it would react to tactical intrusions into its territory at a small / medium scale with going Nuclear – very well knowing that if the Nuclear button is pressed then there is no withdrawing and it will lead to a full scale Nuclear conflagration from which there is no return and will lead to the absolute annihilation of Pakistan.
    The moot point is we dont know how to handle Pakistan.

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