The surgical strikes were a brilliant tactical success but a strategic failure.
Three notable events took place in the 10 days preceding the second anniversary of the surgical strikes on 29 September 2018.
First: The UGC on 19 September issued an ‘advisory’ to all universities and higher education institutions to observe ‘Surgical Strike Day’ on 29 September by holding special NCC parades and talks by veterans, organising exhibitions and through students writing letters and cards pledging support for the armed forces. The government is also organising a mega multi-media exhibition at the India Gate.
Second: The government, based on a request by Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan, on 20 September agreed for a meeting of the foreign ministers on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly session. Within 25 hours, on 21 September, the meeting was cancelled citing “… brutal killings of our security personnel by Pakistan-based entities and the recent release of a series of 20 postage stamps by Pakistan glorifying a terrorist”.
The official statement also made a direct attack on Imran Khan by stating “…the evil agenda of Pakistan stands exposed and the true face of the new Prime Minister of Pakistan Imran Khan has been revealed to the world in his first few months in office”.
Imran Khan responded on Twitter: “Disappointed at the arrogant and negative response by India to my call for the resumption of the peace dialogue. However, all my life I have come across small men occupying big offices who do not have the vision to see the larger picture”. Thus, diplomacy is on the back burner for the foreseeable future.
Third: The Chief of Army Staff has given a series of interviews and public statements saying that it was time for more surgical strikes and other military action against Pakistan. “Terrorism emanating from Pakistan is the biggest challenge to the country. But surgical strikes are not the only option we have. The armed forces have several other better options for tackling cross-border infiltration and terrorism.”
The import of the surgical strikes, launched by the Special Forces on the night of 28/29 September 2016, was not in the number of enemy casualties and the infrastructure destroyed or the depth and frontage of the operation or the type of weapons used. Similar strikes have been covertly launched many times earlier. It lay in the declaration of India’s intent for dealing with the proxy war perpetrated by Pakistan in the future. “Alea iacta est” (the die is cast), we all thought. At last, a government has come up with a comprehensive political and military strategy of “compellence” for dealing with Pakistan.
Pakistan’s response to the surgical strikes was in consonance with its long-term strategy. The surgical strikes were denied and ridiculed, putting the onus on India to provide the details. Over the last two years, it has responded to India’s aggressive posture along the LoC in a quid pro quo manner, using matching firepower and Special Forces/Border Action Teams.
Beheading and mutilation of soldiers’ bodies have been routinely carried out. Infiltration into Jammu and Kashmir has increased and so has the terrorist violence. The recent killing and mutilation of a BSF jawan and three police personnel in Jammu and Kashmir nearly 10 days before the second anniversary of the surgical strikes is a mocking reiteration that there will be no change in Pakistan’s strategy.
Escalation in the event of non-compliance is an integral part of a strategy of “compellence”. In the absence of any follow up to the surgical strikes, they remain a standalone and well-executed tactical operation and nothing more. In a nutshell, the surgical strikes were a brilliant tactical success but a strategic failure.
In the last four years, no reforms have been carried out with respect to higher defence management. National security strategy has not been formalised. There is no formal force development strategy either. Modernisation of the armed forces is at a standstill for want of adequate budget. The structure and organisations of the armed forces are of World War 2 era. Pakistan continues with business-as-usual in Jammu and Kashmir, and China initiates humiliating border incidents at will.
The Army chief continues to publicly reveal the strategic intent for more surgical strikes or other military actions against Pakistan. If these threats were made to send a signal to Pakistan, the purpose has not been achieved. And when you intend resolute military action, you do not shout from the rooftop!
The sole aim of such statements is nothing more than an indirect political support for the government. The diplomatic volte-face with respect to talks with Pakistan was again more due to compulsions of domestic politics than a long-term strategy.
Do the surgical strikes merit celebrations at a scale not even seen for Vijay Diwas, which commemorates India’s greatest military victory?
The only justification I can visualise is that the government has little else to celebrate on the national security front. So, with nothing else to celebrate on the eve of the general elections, celebrate the “Surgical Strike Day”.
Lt Gen H S Panag PVSM, AVSM (R) served in the Indian Army for 40 years. He was GOC in C Northern Command and Central Command. Post retirement, he was Member of Armed Forces Tribunal.