There should be no surprise that India carried out a surgical strike on Pakistan on Wednesday. It is in sync with the mood in the country post the Uri attack and the context in which Narendra Modi became PM, whereby he can’t be seen as another Manmohan Singh lest it makes Arun Shourie’s statement—that the BJP is not that different from the Congress—ring true. Even in his recent Kozhikode address, the PM did speak about—albeit elliptically—this strong response to Pakistan when he said their actions wouldn’t go unpunished. Sushma Swaraj’s speech at the UNGA also had a lot of subtext: she said India had clearly reached the end of its patience. Calling a press conference immediately, with the MEA on board too, was a deft act of controlling the narrative of the event. In naval terms, we would congratulate this with a ‘Bravo Zulu’ signal.
DGMO Lt Gen Ranbir Singh said our focus is counter-terrorism and our objective was limited to this time and space. It shouldn’t be read as a threat to Pakistan’s territorial integrity. India is saying we got credible intel on an impending terror attack and not to act pre-emptively would have been imprudent. It’s not our plan to escalate but, in fact, it’s now for Pakistan to answer why terrorists were operating close to our border and if they are on the same page on terror as the global community.
India appears right now to be akin to a rather confident duck in a pond. Beneath the surface calm, there’s surely been frantic diplomatic paddling before this strike and it is still under way. Perhaps Modi has expended his own personal capital in conversations with the US, Russia or China. Now India has support for its boycott of the SAARC summit too, with Bhutan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan supporting India’s position. Feelings and intent have likely been shared around at the highest diplomatic levels and the global community has sensed India’s resolve. This empathy has created the necessary international diplomatic space for India, and that enabled it to act with the confidence it did.
But this isn’t a time for gloating or jubilation. The suggestion that India has isolated Pakistan is misleading. It isn’t easy to isolate a nuclear-powered Islamic country with the strategic geographical positioning that Pakistan has. Pakistan is still engaged by the US, China, Russia and Saudi Arabia—even though they know of Pakistan’s deviousness. The US is a stark example. Despite the killings of Daniel Pearl, American soldiers and Osama bin Laden on Pakistani soil, they still consider Pakistan an ally—albeit a devious one—and operate on that basis, the inherent perfidy notwithstanding. So India needs to prepare for a long haul.
Pakistan is denying the casualties India is claiming. They’re also saying those killed were Pakistani soldiers—but not a word on the terrorists. Kargil redux? Even if two soldiers were killed, if the others were terrorists as India is claiming, Pakistan will have to explain why their soldiers were in the same areas as terrorists. In fact, they should thank us for taking the terrorists out.
Pakistan can raise this attack by India at the UN Security Council, or they can write it off as another LoC violation. But we can’t tell as they have always made audacious moves—whether the wars in 1965 and 1971, Kargil, the Mumbai terror attack, or the Pathankot attack. They are able to invest in irregular forces, special operations-cum-sleeper cells, and now, with jihadi terror as an enabler as well. We should be alert about how Pakistan will react in the coming months or sooner. They will seek to surprise us with their reprisal and also find ways to deny it. So we cannot tell yet if this was a positive or negative initiative by India in the long term.
The talk right now, at least on TV, is as if this is a historic turning point for India. Reading from the official statements, it doesn’t seem like it. But, in fact, we should introspect about the Uri attack as a turning point—this was, to my mind, a major setback. That we lost 18 soldiers—that too in a so-called well-fortified camp—tells us that something is wrong with our preparedness near the LoC. This is, in fact, a major turning point, but a negative one. The army needs to seriously review how it could lose 18 soldiers in a single incident.
Going forward, India also needs to decide what our objective is with Pakistan. Are we really interested in the secession of Balochistan, or acquiring PoK and Gilgit-Baltistan, or the Pandits’ return to Kashmir? Kashmir should be top priority, as working on its internal peace and stability will enable us to deal with other things better. No amount of surgical strikes—or other kinds of strikes—will help us, if Kashmir is in turmoil.