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Post-operation Prognosis

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If on the surgical strikes anniversary we are still arguing whether or not these happened as claimed, and not what these achieved since, it shows a shrinking of our strategic minds.

Here are two sets of evidence as we assess the cost-benefit outcome of the surgical strikes last year. The first of these is being presented by the military establishment, at the say-so of the political leadership. It isn’t being done through a conventional method like a press conference with a liveried general explaining the operation on a screen with a laser-pen and showing pictures, or recoveries as evidence. This is being done through conventional news media.

The release of two significant books has been timed with the first anniversary of the strikes. Both are written by prominent defence reporters, well-connected in military-political complex. Both sets of authors are trained in covering military affairs, so you’d rather take the works of both seriously.

Both assert that the strikes did take place. Primary evidence is first person interviews with some of the young, unnamed special forces officers. These, we should take at face value. There are also impressive quotes from top generals and the political leadership, which should be seen in the larger perspective: of the internal political intent of the strikes. Which, let me state clearly, is a perfectly legitimate objective in a democracy.

A picture of Shekhar Gupta, editor-in-chief of ThePrintSomewhat less convincing, even juvenile, has been the non-stop coverage on what we often describe as commando comic channels. There are “interviews” with masked para-commando officers, red berets, shoulder badges, the winged-dagger and the loop. How angry we were over Uri attacks, how we planned the strikes and how successfully we carried these out and returned unscathed.

Running on loop on the rest of the screen are hazy, typical pale infra-red green night-vision images of some military operation, so clumsily done that the camera covering good commando firing also catches the bad guy getting hit and neatly falling, like in Sunny Deol movies.

But even if these images are picked up from some juvenile commando videos, three facts do not change: one, that there is sufficient evidence that what is described as surgical strikes did take place. Second, that Indian special forces returned without serious casualties – it is impossible to hide casualties, and India doesn’t do it. And third, nobody is claiming what these strikes achieved beyond the satisfaction of a night of revenge.

There are two aspects of a military operation, tactical and strategic. Tactically, the surgical strikes were a success. While there aren’t any specific claims of casualties and damage on the other side, it should be acknowledged that a very dangerous series of operations across the LoC were carried out with great professional panache and valour. Because all of it worked to perfection, including the maintenance of total secrecy before and after, so difficult in a cluttered theatre like Kashmir, we can declare it a success.

A larger, strategic objective of the strikes wasn’t stated. Was it to just tell the Pakistanis that each time they do something like Uri, there will be a tit-for-tat? Or, was it to deter them and their malevolent proxies from carrying out other such attacks in future? Evidence of the past year tells us that none of the two has played out, definitely not the second.

My colleague Manu Pubby, who is among the finest defence reporter-writers in our country, has researched figures from official records, including parliament questions to show that rather than deter them into better behaviour, Pakistani mischief along the LoC increased in this year. The number of ceasefire violations, for example, had already reached 228 on 11 July this year. This is the exact equal of the total number of violations in the full year of 2016. There is a big improvement in a different sector though – the International Border managed by the BSF. The number here in the same period was just 23 against 221 in the full year of 2016. But please note that this border is fundamentally different and distant from the LoC. Against a total of eight Indian soldiers dead along the LoC last year (not counting attacks like Uri deeper inside), the number, until 11 July this year was four. These numbers are from a reply given in the Lok Sabha by Minister of State for Defence, Dr Subhash Bhamre. There have also been attempts at further Uri-type raids, but foiled by alertness.

In the Rajya Sabha, Dr Bhamre also gave out some numbers on infiltration bids on the LoC foiled by the Army. As against 27 in 2016, the number had reached 16 by July 2017, so the average is being maintained. The armed forces had more success as the number of infiltrators killed more than doubled (36 by July 2017 compared to 37 last year). This denotes success and improved LoC management. But the entire set of figures tells us that if deterrence was the objective of these audacious strikes, it hasn’t been achieved yet.

It is in the nature of strategic sciences and military craft that radical new ideas do not emerge every other day unlike a new software or app. There was a much celebrated Revolution in Military Affairs (RMA) over two decades back, mainly linked to how warfare would change with new technologies. Another came in 2005, with the publication of British General Rupert Smith’s ‘The Utility of Force’ (Knopf), hailed by some as a seminal treatise in the class of Carl Von Clausewitz, and by others as pop-military science. Much debate, in fact (six of some 10 most globally influential reviews I checked out) was centred, or began with his provocative first four-word sentence in the book: “War no longer exists.”

It was a killer sentence. He said conventional, “industrial scale” wars where large bodies of men and machines clashed seeking one clear outcome, are now over. New wars, he said, will be between or with peoples. It follows that these wars will be at lower intensity, over scattered geographies and timelines. Large, heavy armies will not be able to bring these wars to conclusion and thereby not have the “utility” to justify what nations continue investing in these. It follows that such wars could be never-ending. As the Israelis have found even in their nearly stateless neighbourhood, or the Americans now in Afghanistan. In some cases, it gets further complicated when nations get involved with warring people. Or, rather more specifically for India in Kashmir, when one nation (Pakistan) gets involved with people on both sides of the LoC.

This helps us understand why the strategic success of the surgical strikes has not matched their brilliant tactical achievement. Terrorist lives lost do not bother Pakistan as they are an expendable and unlimited resource. To deter them militarily in this unconventional war, such strikes will need to be frequent and, necessarily, one-sided. Does such positive (military) asymmetry exist for India over Pakistan?

Two examples are popular in our country now: Israeli raids over Palestinian areas and American drone strikes over Af-Pak regions and now in the ISIS zone. Both work in an environment of total military asymmetry and air superiority. Without the latter, the most lethal – and expensive – drones will have their limitations as they can’t survive a good air defence system. An asymmetry can be aspired for, but India should ask if it is willing to increase its defence spending very considerably, maybe double it from the current sub-2 per cent of GDP. Rajiv Gandhi had taken it to 3.38 per cent in 1987-88. He also gifted us the economic crisis of 1990-91. If this is the only way to counter this pestilence from the other side, India should take a deep breath and move with determination. Are there more cost-effective ways? This is the debate India’s strategic community needs to have, and not only ritually on the anniversaries of surgical strikes.

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  1. Shri Gupta Ji, you have been in public life of Journalism in India for quite long! Almost a life time! May you live long!
    Sir you ought to be able to appreciate that the problem of Kashmir can never be resolved by anything done between the militaries of India and Pakistan , nor anything done or not done by Indian security forces vis a vis the people of Kashmir.
    Concerned people like you must focus that any breach, be it the slightest, of the instrument of accession signed between India and maharajah Harisingh is simply unacceptable and sanotateges every chance of peace.
    The arrogance of Indian polity and false nationalism has already trampled enough of that Instrument and the hawks in polity and media are craving for more blood to aboragate article 371 35 and so on. That will be suicidal!
    No state can ever suppress completely the cause of any people for freedom and liberty and a nationalist identity.
    Kashmir people seek such an identity and as honourable people wenindians ought not object.
    We can seek peace with them to be within the constitution of India and have self rule of the kind assured in the instrument of accession, or more like anything under the sun but within Indian constitution as affirmed by a man as great as shri Vajpayee.
    You are of course aware of the super confidence of the newbies that draw their strength from ignorance of history and politics but only based on crony capitalist propaganda tricks and feats mastered from shri Joseph Goebbels.
    India must workout with open mind a Political solution within the constitution.
    All political forces of India must shed their differences on this narrow subject of Kashmir and arrive at a consensus to settle the issue and Perdue that line of consensus with Kashmir people in a manner acceptable to them.
    The PoK must be left to Pakistan and the people of pok to sort out!

    India must work out complete peace with Pakistan leaving the pok.
    We must all realise that between the two nuclear armed nations, there is simply no chance for either to annex the other and takeover the part of Kashmir with the other.

    And same applies to india China boundary question.
    Let us not be shy to acknowledge that the boundaries between India and china were never negotiated, never mutually determined or agreed.
    Once we and Chinese agree on this simple truth, it is a very simple matter for both to arrive at an acceptable boundary settlement taking each other’ real concerns based on the ground situation and history using which almost every neighbor of china settled their boundary with china, mostly in favour of the countries that negotiated with china.
    If we can not see such simple history and facts, we will be Bali ka bakras of our own ignorance and stupidity.
    No one can rescue us!
    Sir I humbly submit that your contemplation that we might increase our defence budget and may achieve a victory over Pakistan is extremely misplaced and ought not be considered by men of integrity like you.
    The mighty USA could achieve no victory in any country, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, afganistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya or anywhere else.
    How can we?
    Kashmir is a travesty of history. But it possible to close it with some love and some open mind.
    Of course India has blinked for more than half century about Kashmir and about India china boundary!
    And suffered! We can prolong our suffering as we are so much used to suffering like Devdass was used to seperation!
    But is it the best we can?

  2. I think the answers to Shekhar Gupta’s dilemma are answered himself. What’s the cost we can afford? From a sub 2 % GDP to a low 2% plus GDP … That’s imminently doable and it does translate into a humugous number of Artillery shells ….. what’s the effect? Engagement of Pakistan from a position of strength which is eminently desirable given the long-term nuisance value of a primed antagonistic neighbor ….. Does an escalation below the threshold help our cause … Definitely … Even the seemingly unending supply of Jehadis has a finite number & appetite … Nothing cuts fear as does fear itself … Some select areas along the Line of Control need to get hot, Real Hot, in response to provocations by infiltrating Jihadis. Tbese terrorists may be low life Pakistanis but they are nontheless instruments of their State Power and that requires resources. And our actions do not have to be spelt out as a Strategic Statement of Intent that Shekhar Gupta can understand…. It’s the Big Guns that simply need to do the talking!!!

    • So sad are your thoughts sir! War or enemity have never been as simple as gentlemen away from them, away from real people think, as you do.
      World has seen none like the powerful USA! And usa had been on the run in every place it tried hegemony.
      The only issue between India and Pakistan is Kashmir.
      We can never win it by gun. No one had ever!
      Gentlemen like you do great harm to india and the people of India, without any benefit to yourself or anyone else!
      Peace is the greatest gift the world can give itself.
      Please do think cool! And try to use sanity and logic and historical precedent on how what you say is right, other than you just saying it to be right!

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