Today Morning, right in between our morning news consumption, we all were bombarded with some completely unexpected news. India carried out a surgical strike in POK. Yes, it was asked for by Pakistan and it was long overdue but it was highly unlikely. When you see last 10 day timelines, you understand why it was highly unlikely and why it happened? On September 18, a group of terrorist from across the border attacked a military camp in URI, Kashmir which took the lives of 19 soldiers. This attack was one of the largest on Indian Military on her soil – even bigger than Pathankot attack. What followed was a pretty much routine response from Indian. Immediately after the attack, Director General Military Operations (DGMO) Lt General Ranbir Singh stated that “We reserve the right to respond to any act of the adversary at a time and place of our choosing”. In next few days, what followed was the usual diplomatic activities that included PM Modi’s Kerala speech that said, “Indians will never forget the gruesome act of killing 18 soldiers in Uri” (That time the death toll was 18). Which was followed by Foreign Minister Sushma’s dramatic UN speech, “people who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones”, which then followed by India’s withdrawal from SAARC and the day of attack itself the news were circulated that John Kerry spoke to Sushma twice over the period of two days and appealed to not let situation escalate with Pakistan. And the in-between news of revoking Indus water treaty. All these seemed like the regular soft response of India to Pak originated terror attacks. But what followed – the surgical strike – was a completely unexpected response from India.
Now, let’s start with the question what a surgical strike is? Well, the surgical strikes are military attacks that are planned in a very detailed manner to result in the intended outcome, with minimal or no collateral damage and to only harm legitimate targets. Historically surgical attacks are carried out often, not only in India but across the world. The drone attacks that we often see happening around the world nowadays are a kind of surgical attack too. The most famous example of surgical attack was USA’s attack on Bin Laden in Pakistan. The term surgical attack literally comes from medical science (how you surgically remove some unwanted things from your body without harming rest of the body).
One thing I did not understand when I got the news in the morning was if it’s a covert or overt operation. If it’s covert operation, how can the official announcements be made and if it’s overt operation, what would be the consequences? The same question was in the mind of almost everybody. Friends in Mumbai started panicking (it’s an assumption in India that if Pak wants to carry out a nuclear attack on India, the target would be Mumbai, and then there will be no Pakistan as India will retaliate), the stock market immediately got down by 500 points and what would follow was the question being asked and discussed almost everywhere, be it social media, newsrooms or corporate water cooler discussions.
Surgical attacks normally have limited depth of incursion and fatalities. Most of the time surgical attacks are not officially admitted. However, this time, it was different, India not only admitted that it carried out the surgical attack, it actually notified the Pakistan of the attack after it finished. The said attack resulted in significant causalities in terrorist camps (later unofficial figure mentioned that 7 terrorist launch pads, out of which 5 were major ones and 2 were minor ones were neutralized with 38-45 terrorists were killed and as a collateral damage two Pakistani soldiers also lost their lives). It was also claimed that one Indian soldier inadvertently crossed LOC and is now held at the Pakistani military headquarters in Nikayal, Jhandroot, west of Mankote.
Was this response unique? Something new? No? The new thing is the public acceptance by Indian officials to the attacks. It shows the world and especially to the Pakistan that the attacks on Indian soils will be retaliated. So, what makes government carry out this kind of attack and publically admit it now and not earlier? First, India has improved its position on a global scale in recent years. In the last 10 years, the relationship between India and USA has been improved a lot
by the effort of Singh and his successor Modi. Now the position of India is strong enough to conduct this kind of attack without having to worry about International reaction. Second, India conducted surgical strikes in POK which falls under Indian territory. According to Simla agreement, both sides will respect the LOC and will not in any way “alter it”. A surgical strike across the border does not alter the LOC, the international borders between India and Pakistan remain unaltered. So, not only this is the most appropriate response to the cross-border terrorism by Modi government but it is one of the most strategically competent response too.
But this response does bring worry about consequences of this attack. Let’s be honest, Pakistan is a loose cannon, you can never know what the reaction could be. However, looking at the strategically and military masterstroke that this strike is, Pakistan is not left with much choice. They for sure can’t retaliate with military advances since doing that would require them to accept that India, in fact, carried out the surgical strike. And, accepting that would mean they were indeed harboring terrorists on their soil. So, that option is out of the way. Now they can also decide to not let India get away after this since Pakistani army does want to show their people what they are capable of. However, doing so would not only a mistake diplomatically on the world stage, it would also be a mistake on the military front. None of these two countries can afford a direct war since both countries have nuclear capacities. In fact, the changed tone of Pakistan can be seen from the statements made by Khawaja Asif – Pakistan’s defense minister who less than 48 hours earlier of this strike suggested the willingness to use nuclear weapons against India in an interview given to Pakistanis TV channels SAMAA saying, “We have not developed devices (nuclear weapons) for as item of showpiece, if there will be a requirement, we will destroy them”. But after the strike, the same minister was talking in a complete different tone saying he doesn’t want tensions with India. In an interview with GEO TV he said, “we don’t want a war with India” and “I don’t think there is any such threat”.
So, where does this leave us? Do we still need to worry about consequences? Well, for starter India has started preparing for the consequences. It has started relocating villages from its border with Pakistan and canceled the Retreat ceremony at Attari-Wagah border till October 2nd. As a proactive measure (and it does show how strong Indian response to this URI attack is) India started planning a major Naval exercise in the Arabian Sea which is Pakistan’s only sea trade route. This exercise that supposed to happen in the coming weeks would be called Defense of Gujarat Exercise (DGX) and will employ three dozen warships and submarines as well as Indian Air Force aircraft. Most of the government officials who are even moderately related to safety and security are called off from their holidays or leaves and border states are on high alert. But what should worry India is not the military attack on India from Pakistan, it’s the terrorist attack on India that would be the consequence of this strike. One relief could be that on this Diwali or Christmas, India might not see a cross-border terrorist attack but in next 6 to 9 months when the high adrenalin security measures are calmed down and the memories of this strike are faded away, India might see a major terrorist attack. We can’t just get rid of terrorist from a country whose main export is terrorism in almost all south Asian countries. It’s good to see the proactive security measures right now but one can’t help but be cynic to worry that these security measures are going to be relaxed and then there will be the time the when enemies will strike. And, that time we’ll have to measure the effectivity of this surgical strike if the aim of this surgical strike was to remove terrorism. But for what it’s worth, the surgical strike is successful diplomatically. China hasn’t condemned the strike yet and so did USA which is a diplomatic success and at the same time Bangladesh has supported the strike.
One of the most impressive activity this government did – which it always does better than anybody else – was the complete PR strategies. From DGP’s we have the right to respond at our will to Indus water treaty talks, to Sushma’s UN speech to Modi’s Kerala speech everything was well thought and well-planned distribution of words. What were said and what were distributed was some Chanakya level strategy. But the brownie points are given to the public announcement of surgical strike. This creates a new precedent for India to counter terrorism. It shows to the world that India will retaliate in both diplomatic and military ways to the terrorism and the enemy country better be ready for unprecedented consequences of any attempt made to harm India.
And in the mean time, Bollywood (Indian Motion Picture Producers Association) banned Pakistani actors from working in Indian movies. Also, India might soon see a highly patriotic movie based on this strike starring Sunny Deol. Let’s hope he doesn’t invade Pakistan single-handedly in that movie.
September 29, 2016