The Chief of Army Staff, General Bipin Rawat, had recently given a series of interviews alongside ‘ParakramParv’, the term given to the celebration of the second anniversary of the surgical strikes, conducted in 2016. In every interview he has mentioned that India has a range of options including launching another surgical strike, in case Pak does not mend its ways. He has been straight forward and blunt in his comments.
His statement’mending their ways’, refers to Pak’s increased ceasefire violations, support to the insurgency in Kashmir and barbaric actions by them including mutilating Indian casualties. However, the chief clarified that Indian soldiers are not barbaric and would behave in a professional manner, thus causing casualties but not mutilating bodies.
He therefore contradicted the statement of the defence minister, who had recently stated in a TV interview that the Indian army does the same as Pak but does not broadcast. General Rawat was at a point asked whether he has any message for Pak to which he replied none, as he is only concerned about the Indian army. Nothing could be stronger than this subtle warning.
The conduct of the surgical strike is now history. It was aimed at sending a message and it did. The celebration of the same this year, apart from political overtones, as the Government desires to present it as an achievement of its tenure, is also intended at conveying a message. The message is that India would not sit back in case of any misadventure by Pak, especially as it moves into the election mode. The present Government would be forced to act as also is prepared for any escalationpost its actions. This message is being further accentuated by regular interviews of the army chief.
Some may interpret the celebration and regular press interviews to imply that India cannot repeat a similar surgical strike in the future. India would have multiple options, other than a tactical operation close to the border.The fact that the Indian army chief has threatened a strike across would be enough for Pak to be alert aiming to thwart Indian actions.
Reports already indicate of a higher than normal level of alertness of Pak troops. Thus far, it has only been the Indian army which has remained on high alert, expecting infiltration. Henceforth it would also be Pak, expecting a cross border strike.
The surgical strike was a resounding success, which Pak denied formally, but indicated its impact by increasing the intensity of cross border violations immediately thereafter. It was a measure to rekindle confidence amongst its soldiers who were aware and directly impacted by the strike but forced into silence. It was Pak’s methodology of stating that it will henceforth react to any future Indian actions.
The interviews by General Rawat has drawn immediate reactions from Pak. The DG ISPR (Inter Services Public Relations) immediately countered the Chief’s words. He rattled the rusted sabre that Pak though a nuclear state, desires peace but is ever ready for war. The Pak Minister for Information and Broadcasting, Fawad Choudhary, stated that since the Indian Government is facing graft scandals, they have asked their army chief to hurl irresponsible statements of war.Hafiz Saeed jumped to Pak’s rescue by claiming that no strikes took place. Thus, it does appear that the message India wished to convey has been delivered.
Since the Mumbai attacks, Indian diplomacy has Pak almost labelled as a terror supporting state. This has ensured that Pak would only consider targeting population centres in extreme desperation. The recent visit of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) has not given Pak a clean chit on terror funding. It may thus be moved to the black list, adding to its financial woes.
The strong anti-infiltration grid is proving successful, severely limiting attempts at infiltration. Pak inducted, and locally sponsored militants are being eliminated daily. Information flow against militants’ presence is on the rise. Indian retaliation to Pak firing has been strong and hard, hitting Pak where it hurts, its defences. Thus, it would now only have the option of keeping the insurgency simmering, below Indian threshold of tolerance, while supporting the Hurriyat through hawala funds.
Such warnings as conveyed by the army chief must flow at regular intervals. India has a range of options, which it must continue to keep under consideration, ready for employment when essential. It is also not necessary to employ troops across the border for tactical operations every time, there are other means. Repeating a successful operation does not imply that the next attempt would be an equal success. History indicates that fighting the next war on the tactics of the last has never succeeded. The surgical strikes were a one-off incident, which brought forth success. The next may be different.
The strike did not impact the one organization which India aimed to target, the Pak army. By denying the strike, it kept its public from knowing that it had been hurt deep. Unless it is hit in a such a manner that it loses local face, its stranglehold on the country would continue and peace would only remain a dream. Thus, the options which would need to be considered should be deeper as also should provide publicity.
Pak should continuously be compelled to consider Indian range of options, wargame each and have troops permanently on standby seeking to counter them. It should expend time, energy and finances wondering when India would strike and how, while creating counter measures. This pressure must be maintained as also Pak should remain convinced that India would be willing to break the sanctity of the Line of Control (LoC) if the need arises and is prepared to face the consequences of its actions.
The intention should be to keep Pak on the tenterhooks awaiting an Indian strike across the LoC. It must be made to feel that a strike is imminent. It should not be only India whose troops remain on high alert but similar pressure must shift across the border.
The author is Major General (retd)