Sultan M Hali
AN apparently credible and sane, well decorated retired senior Indian Army officer, Lieutenant General H S Panag, who has served in the Indian Army for 40 years and was General Officer Commanding in Chief (GOC in C) Northern Command and Central Command, has authored a very informative article admitting India’s defeat. His opinion piece, titled ‘90-Hour Conflict with Pakistan Ended in a Stalemate and That’s Defeat for India’ carried by Indian publication “The Print” of 7 March 2019, informs that India’s political aim was to set a new normal – to strike preemptively against terrorism-related targets anywhere in Pakistan – for its response to Pakistan’s proxy war driven by terrorism under the cover of an irrational nuclear strategy, and shape the international opinion against its use of terrorism as a state policy. Its military aim was to demonstrate its capability for the same, neutralize Pakistan’s response with heavy costs and be prepared for escalation.
According to General Panag, Pakistan’s immediate political strategy was to preserve its sovereignty, retain its international relevance and deter India from exploiting the new normal. Its military aim was to neutralize India’s preemptive strikes with heavy costs, demonstrate its capability for a quid pro quo response, and be prepared for escalation. The General concludes that overall, the 90-hour conflict, from 26 February to 1 March, ended in a stalemate, with both sides partially achieving their political and military aims. He believes that this should be a cause of concern for India as it raises questions about lack of a comprehensive national security and military strategy. The informed Indian General Officer opines that militarily, the conflict ended in a stalemate due to the quid pro quo aerial strikes by the Pakistan Air Force and the ‘drawn’ aerial engagement, thus blunting the psychological fear regarding India’s conventional superiority.
He reasons that the reasons are not hard to fathom. Rather than promptly implementing contingency plans based on a long-term formal strategy, Indian response strategy has been ad-hoc and event-driven. India neither has a comprehensive strategy nor has it created the overwhelming technological and military edge, which is a prerequisite for the success of this strategy. Going through the painful process of soul searching, General Panag admits that in the last few days, Pakistan stole a march over India in perception management, which was directed at the domestic and the international audience, including India’s. Panag believes that in today’s transparent world, one cannot solely rely on cryptic statements by the government without credible evidence. Once politicians start managing perception through political rhetoric at rallies/public functions, sooner than later they score self-goals as has been evident from the contradictory statements of the BJP leadership.
Despite politically driven neo-nationalism having dominated the public debates for the last five years, Indian threshold for pain is very low and certainly much lower than Pakistan’s. The plight of the captured air warrior became a national obsession for India, which in turn influenced political and military decision-making. In the General’s view, raising the ante with more air strikes would have put India in a better strategic situation. The General believes that war-mongering in the last few weeks must not let India forget that there is a far more cost-effective option available – winning the hearts and minds of the people of Jammu & Kashmir. Forcing ‘compellence’ on Pakistan is going to be a long haul. If present diplomatic efforts fail, India may have to exploit the new normal and go up the escalatory ladder, right up to a limited war. And for that, a national security strategy and other highlighted reforms aimed at building an overwhelming technological-military edge are a prerequisite. Else, India will always be militarily stalemated, and a stalemate is a defeat for India.It is heartening that senior Indian military officers are taking cognizance of the fact that Pakistan’s perception management has proved to be superior to India’s. A new normal may have been set by India but failing to either adhere to it or enforcing the new normal allowed the initiative to slip to Pakistan. Announcing the opening of the Kartarpur Corridor had stolen the limelight from India’s diplomacy and endeared the Pakistani leadership not only to the Sikh Diaspora but also humanitarian organizations the world over. Without batting an eyelid, Pakistan shot down two fighter aircraft of the vastly superior Indian Air Force, extended hospitality to the captured Indian pilot and returning him unscathed with dignity. The entire world lauded Pakistan’s superior exterior manoeuvre.
India’s brutality and the havoc wreaked on the Kashmiris of Indian-occupied Kashmir (IoK) as well as other Indian minorities is not only well documented but have caused consternation amongst the human rights organizations all over the world. Panag has got it right when he recommends that India should try “winning the hearts and minds of the people of Jammu & Kashmir.” For that India will have to revert to its founding father Pundit Jawaharlal Nehru, while addressing the Indian Parliament on June 26, 1952, said, “If … the people of Kashmir do not wish to remain with us, let them go by all means; we will not keep them against their will, however painful it may [be] for us.” For India, the writing is clear on the wall, its own leaders, senior military officers and intelligentsia have admitted that the Kashmiris will never remain with them. Unbridled brutality has lost the Kashmiris forever. Their voice must be heard and choice must be heeded.
—The writer is retired PAF Group Captain and a TV talk show host.
Sultan M Hali