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Surgical strikes had great propaganda value, but has only made things worse

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In the short term, the strikes had great propaganda value that can be used for political gains, and stirring nationalistic fervour.

Jammu and Kashmir has remained disputed territory since the independence of the subcontinent. The stated positions of the two countries are well known. However, since independence the two have gone to war thrice with numerous low to mid-level conflagrations continuing at regular intervals along the LOC. Even today it is the most densely held active line in the world.

The Musharraf era, post-2003, witnessed a sharp decline in cross-border infiltration. Despite numerous Confidence Building Measures and direct, as well as back, channel diplomacy, meaningful progress could not be made. However, the blowback resulted in two failed attempts on Musharraf’s life by Kashmiri militants.

The killing of Burhan Wani served as a catalyst for a large percentage of youth and women who came out on the streets of Kashmir demanding freedom. India retaliated with unprecedented brutal force, even using ‘pellet guns’ to disperse unarmed agitators.
In this backdrop, the Uri incident acted as the last straw. The army had to retaliate quickly to restore the morale of its troops.

I shall highlight a few points here:

a) First press conference of Indian DGMO indicated strikes ‘along LOC’ and ‘LOC ke nazdeek’ in Hindi.

b) The Indian media then started a hysterical race to present exaggerated versions of the incident.

c) Military circles claimed cross-border strikes by select Special Forces troops on the basis of ‘credible intelligence of presence of terrorists on specific dates at launchpads’ across the LoC.

d) The selection of targets over a distance of approximately 600 km with precise intelligence of the militants’ location and their plans for infiltration is mind boggling. If these were known launchpads nothing stopped Indians taking them out earlier using observed / unobserved indirect fire.

e) Independent media groups like BBC and Reuters undertook investigative reports of the incident and visited places like Bhimber, Madarpur, Leepa and Neelum Valley to ascertain the facts. All concluded there was no evidence of an attack on any permanent or temporary civil abodes.

f) In interviews, Lt Gen (retd) D.S. Hooda repeatedly mentions his prime concern was the ‘safe return of each individual rather than killing of terrorists’. One discerns a mindset more focused on ‘display’ of capability rather than neutralizing or capturing identified targets.

Conclusions about the strikes

a) No militant groups were found in any of the purported launchpads. The claim about the existence of camps in the immediate vicinity defies simple logic.

b) Technically, the claim of having crossed the LOC appears correct. However, it occurred at a few places and at a shallow depth of few hundred metres. They occupied vantage points on the flanks and rear of Pakistani posts. In some cases, the infiltration was detected and the strike force withdrew under the cover of heavy fire.

c) A loud message was sent across that a paradigm shift in operational responses has taken place in India.

d) Pakistan’s total denial has to be viewed in the context of restraint.

Gains and Losses of the surgical strikes

In the short term, the strikes had great propaganda value that can be used for political gains, and stirring nationalistic fervour.

But in the long term, it will be counter-productive and will escalate tensions along the LOC. Bilateral diplomacy and trade relations remain strained between the nations with no signs of improvement. India’s actions may have helped militant groups regain traction among the masses, making Pakistan’s efforts to eliminate extremism and militancy more difficult.

The situation in Jammu and Kashmir Valley has been exacerbated. India needs to review its policies towards upholding the human rights of the people of Kashmir. No draconian laws or scorched earth policies can resolve a political issue. The two nations have to understand that becoming hostage to political expediencies is playing with the future of over 1.5 billion people of South Asia.

The author spearheaded counter terrorism campaign in FATA and Swat from 2007-10 (3 years). Clearance of Swat, Buner and entire FATA less North Waziristan.

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  1. I could not disagree more with General Muhammed Masud Aslam, escalation is not what the Pakistanis are looking for … Certainly not at this point in time … If the Pakistanis had the capability and the means they would have tried their best to upset the current equilibrium in their favour … That has not been the case … In fact this time around its the Indians who are looking to up the ante and the Pakistani General Staff has not taken up the bait as the overall international environment is against the Pakistanis. If an Artillery Duel were to open up along the Line of Control it’s the Pakistanis who will loose the most. I doubt the Pakistani Artillery can keep up to a one on one Artillery Duel given the sheer cost of these shells!

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