Needless politicisation

SURGICAL STRIKES

Indian Army

In the overly acrimonious rumble and tumble of the general elections, security issues, as never before earlier, have been dragged needlessly into the political discourse.

The term “surgical strike” has become flavour of the season with the ruling dispensation flaunting it unabashedly to showcase its patriotic fervour and its `muscular approach’ towards an errant neighbour.

Not to be left behind in the narrative of nationalism, principal opposition party Congress too has joined, though rather late, in the cacophony for not being left out to reap some electoral benefit.  Just the other day, the Congress released the details of the six surgical strikes they stated were conducted during the UPA-1 and UPA2 era as also of two strikes during former prime minister A B Vajpayee’s tenure.

That the present government scoffed at this revelation dismissing it as a “Me Too” response was largely expected in the vitiated current political environment where truth has become a daily casualty. Cross-border operations have taken place for many decades, however, these are not publicised for obvious reasons. 

A surgical strike is primarily a precision military attack on legitimate military targets with no or minimal collateral damage intended to be caused on innocent civilians or civil infrastructure.  For a nation to deal with its adversary’s mischief, there is a range of alternatives encompassing political, economic, diplomatic or military options. 

In the latter choice, surgical strikes whether by land, sea or air are possible on enemy military or terrorist targets with this kinetic option being exercised which is short of a limited or a full-scale war. These swift strikes are intended to send out the requisite stern message to an erring neighbour/adversary to instill in them that any further provocations will be met by a strong response.

Thus, without ascending to the top rung of the escalatory ladder, that is a full blown out war, surgical strikes can be eminently useful in peacetime or a ‘no war- no peace’ situation in conveying an appropriate message to a potential adversary.  

In recent times, after the Pakistani terror attack against an Indian formation in Uri in J&K in September 2016, the Indian Army carried out well coordinated and very professionally executed surgical strikes against six different Pakistani targets across the line of control in J&K on September 29, 2016 inflicting a fair number of casualties/destruction on these targets.

That Pakistan, as is their won’t, denied the conduct of any such attacks is a different story. However, two months later on November 29, 2019, Pakistan terrorists once again struck at an important Indian military base in Nagrota, deep inside J&K, which did cause some discomfiture to us as to the long term efficacy of these strikes in deterring the enemy.

The major lesson emerged that one odd surgical strike does not restrain a recalcitrant and mischievous neighbour. 

Following the dastardly Pak terror attack on a CRPF convoy on February 14, 2019 at Pulwama which resulted in 43 fatalities, the Indian Air Force carried out a surgical air strike in the wee hours of February 27, 2019 across the international border against a suspected Jaish-e-Mohd  (JeM) terror camp in Balakot deep in Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.

Reportedly, 12 Mirage 2000 fighter bombers were employed in the surgical air strike and all returned to base safely after inflicting damage to the terrorist facilities in Balakot.

That India by striking deep inside Pakistan territory (beyond the Pakistan-occupied-Kashmir region) did change the nation’s counter-terror response was a positive change in the security paradigm for which the present government needs to be commended. The era of “strategic restraint” was rightly given its due burial.  However, the over-hype of this action should have been avoided.

Pakistan retorted within 24 hours after this strike by targeting, though unsuccessfully. The IAF also announced the shooting down of a Pakistani F-16 while it lost one of its vintage MiG 21 while intercepting the intruding Pakistani aircraft. 

Indian flying ace, Wg Cdr Abhinandan, piloting the MiG 21, was captured by the Pakistanis and subsequently expatriated to India 48 hours later. With this, many useful lessons - military, political and diplomatic - did emerge.    

Firstly, in today’s increasingly troubled world and a restive neighbourhood, a nation’s security is of paramount significance and cannot be made subservient to any political party’s electoral ambitions or self-projection by any leader. 

Thus, all institutions including the armed forces must remain strictly apolitical as they execute their assigned missions.  Importantly, both the ruling establishment and the Opposition must resist the temptation to score political brownie points over each other at the expense of the nation’s security.

Secondly, effective deterrence can only be achieved by ensuring adequate military capabilities which all governments must pursue with diligence and take to fruition steps also initiated by previous governments in building this capability. Only then will the nation be able to project military power, when and as required effectively.   

Thirdly, capabilities, strengths and weaknesses of the nation’s armed forces must be kept confidential especially the possession of certain state-of-the-art weaponry. Certain cross border actions have to be kept under the wraps for obvious reasons and thus no chest-thumping and undue publicity must be accorded to such adventures.

Covert operations

Additionally, the nation’s prowess in covert operations needs to be vastly enhanced. We have to be fully adept in engaging the enemy in “war by other means.”  Intelligence, both at the strategic and tactical levels, in TECHINT and HUMINT (technical intelligence and human intelligence) has to be sharpened for the success of cross border actions and surgical strikes.

Importantly, total synergy amongst the various constituents of Comprehensive National Power (CNP) must be ensured embracing all economic, political, military and diplomatic imperatives.

India, at the cusp of becoming a global power, will only be able to achieve its legitimate aspirations when the nation’s interests are kept above petty politicking by all stakeholders in the nation. Let us never forget the simple yet profound truism that political parties and personalities are temporary and transient but the nation is eternal.  

(The writer was the first chief of the Defence Intelligence Agency in Ministry of Defence) 

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