Postmortem of ‘surgical strikes’


Akmal Hanan

AFTER Uri attack, BJP led government at New Delhi was under tremendous pressure to carry out a retaliation strike to avenge the killing of 18 soldiers. The fact that BJP had been accusing previous UPA government of being soft on Pakistan in view of the attacks it considered emanated from there didn’t make things easy for it. The media created frenzy on the subject only added to the pressure. Initially in a day or two, after the Uri attack, media reported the news about “army having killed around 10 militants who were trying to cross over to this side of Kashmir from Pakistan administered Kashmir (PaK)”. Ironically the news died down by the evening, and there were no further details provided by the government and army refused to comment on the operation further.
On 29th of September, Army DGMO Lt. Gen. Ranbir Singh claimed Indian army had carried out surgical strikes on seven locations across the Line of Control (LoC) that were used as launching pads by militants. Lt. Gen. Ranbir Singh said, “Based on receiving specific and credible inputs that some terrorist teams had positioned themselves at launch pads along the Line of Control to carry out infiltration and conduct terrorist strikes inside Jammu and Kashmir and in various metros in other states, the Indian army conducted surgical strikes at several of these launch pads to pre-empt infiltration by terrorists.” DGMO’s press briefing about the claimed surgical strikes was very measured. He said the operation is complete and army doesn’t intend to take it further, signaling army didn’t want to escalate the situation. On the other side Pakistan refuted the Indian DGMO’s claim. The Pakistan military called it a routine crossfire violation across LoC in which two of its soldiers lost lives while nine were injured. They also claimed casualties on Indian side. The Pakistan army in its statement said, “The notion of surgical strikes linked to alleged terrorist bases is an illusion being deliberately generated by India to create false effects.”
In this scenario where one side claimed surgical strikes inside PaK , and the other side plainly rejected the claim, there was a lot left to one’s imagination and guess work. What the denial of surgical strikes by Pakistan though did was that it minimized the chances of the row escalating into a direct conflict between the two countries. But broadly, what happened in actuality may not be too difficult to gauge by looking into some facts, circumstances, and politicking in which the strikes were claimed and refuted.
Did India do an Abbottabad like operation in which America took out Osama Bin Laden, across LoC, is a clear no, no! And did it do nothing and claimed “surgical strikes”, that would again be far from the truth. The devil is in the detail. On the onset, let’s be clear about one thing, if India had the capability to do an Abbottabad kind of operation it would have wasted no time and done so. We are all aware India has been after Dawood Ibrahim, who is wanted in connection with Bombay serial blasts case, and is believed to be in Pakistan. The media reports have even claimed his exact locations in Pakistan. Similarly India could have thought of taking out other Pakistani nationals like Hafiz Saeed that India considers inimical to its security. But since BJP Government at New Delhi has set the bar very high when it comes to dealing with Pakistan, it had to do something at least to save the reputation of being tough. BJP leaders had upped the ante and one of its important leaders Ram Madhav vowed to take full jaw for a tooth.
The strong sentiment of retaliation could have only been marred by the inability and unpreparedness of Indian army to carry out a retaliatory strike without escalating the situation. Shawn Snow, a specialist in the political and military developments of Central and Southwest Asia while writing on the subject in The Diplomat concludes, “Much of the India’s asymmetrical warfare capability is still being developed.” The article mentions the Indian army’s capacity to carry out a surgical strike is not fully developed. And “a cross border air raid by either heliborne assets or drones would prove exceedingly difficult as Pakistan boasts an incredibly impressive defense system”. And in the days of heightened tension, the vigil would have only gone up. So in this scenario India would have been left with the option of cross border raid.
After the Indian DGMO claimed surgical strikes, the war of words between India and Pakistan intensified. The media channels and newspapers backed their respective countries. In New Delhi all the political parties rallied behind the government and army’s “surgical strike” claim as well as PM Narendra Modi’s “will to walk the talk on Pakistan”. Situation seemed quite in control in India until the opposition Congress party and AAP in New Delhi realized that BJP was walking away with all the credit from the claimed “surgical strikes”. This indeed was a masterstroke from the BJP government in view of the upcoming UP and Punjab Assembly elections. On the other side, Pakistan under pressure to prove that “surgical strikes” didn’t take place in a counter masterstroke arranged a tour for some 40 odd foreign journalists to the places India claimed to have struck. The reports by these journalists cast doubts over the “surgical strikes”. And the counter, media in New Delhi, especially the Indian Express and CNN NEWS 18 did in order to prove the “surgical strikes” had actually taken place were not convincing. The Congress and AAP grabbing on the opportunity provided by the foreign media like CNN, BBC and Washington Post over the strikes asked the government to come out with some proof of “surgical strikes”. The government till now has not come out with any proof. The demand made by Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi and AAP’s Arvind Kejriwal to government to release proof has taken away some credence from the claim domestically. And to what extent will the claim help BJP in coming assembly elections in Punjab and UP remains to be seen.
And on the other hand, with the capture of an Indian soldier by Pakistani army, their claim that Indian side did not cross the LoC nullifies itself. If they continue with that claim then the question arises where did they capture the soldier if he didn’t cross the LoC. This in turn also nullifies Indian claim that its forces came back unscathed after the strike. The inadvertent crossing of LoC by the soldier is highly improbable during these heightened tensions between the two countries.
The truth is somewhere in the middle. The details and circumstances point to the fact that India has carried out cross border raids across LoC. The opposition Congress also claims to have carried out these raids in past. On this part, Pakistan also agrees, saying these actions are a routine on LoC. But if BJP insists the “surgical strikes” did take place, it will have to come out with some proof to support the claim. America didn’t release any proof of Abbottabad operation because nobody doubted its capability. Even then they didn’t shy away from saying they had lost a helicopter in the operation. Here, in this case as the ground situation on LoC and in Kashmir remain same, it becomes more imperative for New Delhi to come out with more details about the strike and what desired results did the action bring in the region. Unfortunately, the events also point to the situation where more blood will be shed on both sides before India and Pakistan realize the solution to the issues can only be found on negotiating table. Till then, regrettably, Kashmir will remain the casualty. Feedback at [email protected]

—Courtesy: RK