Insights into Editorial: Dairy of a very long year

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Insights into Editorial: Dairy of a very long year


 

Background:

A top Army commander said the surgical strikes carried out last year at terror camps in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) were intended to convey the message that the Line of Control (LoC) can be breached whenever the need arises.

Lt Gen General Officer Commanding-in-Chief of Northern Command, also ruled out any Dokalam type stand-off between the armies of India and China in Ladakh sector of the Line of Actual Control (LAC), saying a multi- tier mechanism is in place to resolve any issue that may arise due to differences in perception of the border.

“The surgical strike was a point we wanted to drive home, that the Line of Control is not a line that cannot be breached. When we want to, we will be able to breach it, go across and strike when we need. This was the message we wanted to convey and we did,” he said.

It has been one year since the special forces of the Indian Army carried out surgical strikes to destroy terror Launchpad in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir on September 29, 2016.

It is important to take stock at this point on how India-Pakistan bilateral relations and the regional security situation have evolved over the past year since the strikes.

Success of Surgical Strikes

The challenge for New Delhi has been to develop a military response that does not cross Pakistan’s nuclear threshold, owing to the latter’s credible nuclear deterrence. It was the reason why the Indian army started planning a doctrine of waging a low-scale and swift conventional attack, known as the Cold Start doctrine, as early as 2004.

Then the Primary objective for having conducted the surgical strikes in September 2016 – eliminate and destroy terror launch-pads in PoK across the Line of Control (LoC). A large number of terrorist camps and launch pads exist across south and north of Pir Panjal, they have not decreased, so this kind of action is needed.

Surgical strikes must be seen as the Indian military response to Pakistan that does not cross the latter’s nuclear threshold. It can be seen as India’s attempt to make India’s response to Pakistan’s sub-conventional war. The Central government argues that surgical strikes have been a spectacular success.

Shift in India-Pakistan Relations after Surgical Strikes

Post-Surgical strikes, showing no appetite for a bilateral rapprochement; the two unfriendly neighbours have limited their interactions to firing across the borders in Jammu and Kashmir and calling each other names in global forums.

  • In his first speech after the attack, PM gave a firm but measured response and made a point to distinguish between Pakistan’s people and its leadership.
  • India’s foreign minister followed up with a sharp speech at the United Nations, which framed Pakistan-based terrorism as a global challenge and stepped up Indian rhetoric on Pakistani human rights abuses in Balochistan.

India’s diplomatic efforts over the years and in recent days seem to have increased pressure on Pakistan.

  • The U.S. response to the earlier Uri attack has been far more supportive of India than in the past. Also stressed the need for Pakistan to take effective action against UN-designated terrorist individuals and entities, including Lashkar-e-Tayyaba, Jaish-e-Muhammad and their affiliates.
  • Saudi Arabia and other Gulf Arab states broke from past precedence and unequivocally condemned the Uri attacks.
  • Bhutan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh joined India in boycotting the summit of the South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation (SAARC). Now the future direction of the foremost regional forum, the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), remains unclear after India dropped out of the 2016 Islamabad summit in the wake of the Uri terror attack.
  • At the United Nations General Assembly a few days ago, for instance, External Affairs Minister termed Pakistan a “pre-eminent exporter of terror” — to which Pakistan’s Permanent Representative to the UN, responded: “India is the mother of terrorism” in South Asia.

On the other hand, China has continued to back Pakistan while Russia staged military exercises (Friendship/Druzhba) in Pakistan, much to the disappointment of its close defence partner India.

In addition to it, the regional security situation remains embattled, thanks to confused American policies in South Asia, continuing turmoil in Afghanistan, heightening India-China rivalry, and the India-Pakistan hostility.

Regional stability

From a regional stability point of view, the surgical strikes do not seem to have had much of an adverse impact. The fact that Pakistan neither acknowledged the attacks nor responded in kind shows that the general deterrence between the South Asian nuclear rivals remains intact.

It is easy to talk about nuclear use and threaten nuclear retaliation but not easy to translate such talk into action. In that sense, the surgical strikes have called Pakistan’s nuclear bluff. And that certainly is good news for regional stability.

But such higher-level stability seems to have come with heightened lower-level instability. There are several sets of challenges that are more apparent today, one year after the surgical strikes.

  • One, the India-Pakistan escalation ladder has become far more dangerous today it has ever been in the past one and a half decades, i.e. since the ceasefire was agreed to in 2003. The border stand-offs often lead to military, political and diplomatic escalation. It contributes to escalating an on-going crisis.
  • Ever since the surgical strikes, Pakistan has been retaliating by increasing the pressure on the frontlines. The surgical strikes have reduced the critical distance between ceasefire violations and conventional escalation.
  • The other challenge is more practical than theoretical. The risks of preventive strikes are unpredictable. Preventive strikes may have immense potential to lead up to a ‘competition in risk-taking’, a tendency already prevalent on the frontlines of the India-Pakistan border in J&K.

Need of the hour

  • Despite the success, this strategy of punishment requires consistency and commitment and the momentum achieved by the surgical strikes has to be followed up on a continuous basis.
  • Pakistan’s responses thereafter of supporting insurgency in Kashmir, aiding infiltration across the border, and allegedly supporting attacks on the Indian army convoys and bases continued. This has to be controlled.
  • They should be check on large number of terrorist camps and launch pads that exist across south and north of Pir Panjal.

Conclusion

A year after the surgical strikes across the Line of Control, India must recover its role as a regional stabiliser