Deciphering Surgical Strikes And The Aftermath

 

As a veteran of the glorious institution called the Army, a feeling of impotent rage overcame me, on the morning of 18 Sep 2016, when I heard about the loss of 17 of our brave soldiers in a sneak attack by the terrorists at Uri. Having served in the valley at the peak of insurgency during and in the aftermath of Operation Vijay or the Kargil War, I have witnessed death of my comrades in arm from close quarters and as their Commanding Officer carry that cross with me on a daily basis. So what was it that really hurt me that fateful day of Uri terror attack? It was a sense of despondence that had seeped into my psyche, based on past experience, that we as a country will keep taking such hits and would make a few so called strongly worded statements to condemn the ‘cowardly terrorist action by people who were being supported from across the border’. And a few days later it would be business as usual.

I was one of the cynics, whose first reaction was – nothing is going to happen. It wasn’t that I hoped nothing would happen, but seeing the past record of the previous govts and even the present Govt over last two years plus, I was not very hopeful of the befitting response. I felt that usual platitudes will be mouthed by the people in power, with usual calls for adequate and tough response at the diplomatic level and the need for greater engagement with the Pakistani Govt and the stake holders in Kashmir, by the ‘Aman Ki Asha Brigade’. I also felt there will be some usual Paki bashing by our over enthusiastic media persons and their usual panelists, and thereafter there will be the usual peaceniks who would call for restraint and then it will be business as usual. I was wrong.

The first rumblings of change were felt, in the 48 to 72 hours following the Uri terror attacks, when unconfirmed reports of some action having been taken along the LoC, resulting in heavy casualties on the terrorists. While this news was not confirmed by the Govt and the Army, their denial of such action was too perfunctory and left room for speculations. In addition, the ground swell of public anger this time around was allowed to increase with many a retired Generals coming on the public forum to demand strong action. Coupled with the above, the Pakistani reaction in the form of rushing of its troops to the Indo-Pak border from other areas and the restrictions in flying over the POK, indicated that even Pakistanis felt that this time it was unlikely to be business as usual.

An objective analysis of the events of the following week after the Uri terror attack would indicate to a thinking person that India was preparing itself for a showdown and was in the meanwhile putting its diplomatic pieces on the chessboard of Global reaction in place. There was the usual talk of exercising of various options in form of abrogation of Indus Water Treaty, rescinding of the MFN status for Pakistan, and the diplomatic isolation firstly in South Asian region and thereafter at the world stage, with a tacit declaration that India will take action at the time and place of its choosing. What was not very clear and discernible to the ordinary eye were the subtle actions that were being taken at the Armed Forces level, like clearing of the stuck appointments of senior officers, some delays in moving out of crucial appointments from the likely areas of future operations, and other military preparations like leave restrictions which were imposed. These actions coupled with induction of additional CAPF troops, to manage the ground situation in the event of Army having to be relieved in a hurry, all pointed to the fact that preparations were underway for some retaliatory action.

What was, however, not very clear, was the expected time of response. The Govt had to take an action with adequate preparation to obviate a likely fiasco, at the same time it needed to take action before the Pakistanis were fully prepared to meet the Indian challenge. Also the action could not be delayed so much that the ground swell of international support for India wanes and India is later expected to justify its action at the various world forum. The political dimension was also to be weighed in the context of the gains and losses of a military action. BJP who had come to power on the plank of giving a strong Govt could not be seen to be foolhardy in its quest for political glory. Any action that would result in a failure or heavy casualties would have been a political nightmare for the ‘party with a difference’. Thus the need to launch military action quickly before the preparations on the Pakistani side were completed and weather restricts the choice of military targets.

The choice of military targets had to be well thought out. Here the inputs from various sources, including satellites and electronic instruments, as well as human intelligence and the experience of the commanders and troops on the ground, had to be taken into consideration. The targets had to be ‘do able’, as well as impactful. In order to keep the level of escalation down, only terrorists target had to be chosen and direct confrontation with the Pakistani military had to be avoided. The terrorist infrastructure had to be within easy reach to facilitate easy induction and exfiltration, post the strikes, away from major human settlements to avoid collateral damage to ordinary civilians, and not be too near to Pakistani Army installations to prevent any likely reaction from them. The other considerations of available secure routes to and from the terrorist camps, not too strong an opposition which would require higher troop density, phases of moon and weather conditions and available support from own side of LoC would have been thought out in detail. It would be pertinent to mention here that such detailed preparation would not be possible in just ten odd days after the Uri terror attack. The Army would have been constantly updating its plans and would have wargamed such an eventuality a number of times. Yet the same would not have been possible if there was no synergy between the decision making, planning and executing agencies. It helps if you are reasonably sure of the backing, before you take such actions which are fraught with the dangers of going horribly wrong.

Having chosen the targets, and the time of reaction, coupled with the diplomatic offensive, it was time for the political decision. Luckily India today has a Govt which is ready to walk the talk and thus the go ahead was given for the Surgical Strikes on the terrorist camps across the LoC. The exact details of the Surgical Strikes are a confidential matter and are therefore not being discussed here. We will concentrate on the buildup to and aftermath of the Surgical Strikes. Perhaps the best move of the Govt post the Surgical Strikes was to depute the Director General of Military Operations, in presence of the MEA Representative, to brief the Media about the action. The Army enjoys a credibility which probably not very many institutions of the country enjoy. It was therefore in the fitness of things that the DGMO in his concise brief tells the country what had been achieved. Briefing by any other person, be it political or bureaucratic, would not have the credibility of the Army and would have been questioned from the word go, as the events post the Surgical Strikes have shown.

That the ruling dispensation at the Centre, would gain politically from the Surgical Strikes would be the understatement of the year. BJP has been at the other end of the stick for too many things for last two years or so and the image of the Govt and the Prime Minister have taken a beating despite some spectacular success achieved in various field of governance. Perhaps the one place where the present Prime Minister, his Govt and his Party have taken a severe beating is the area of perception management, where due to its inadequacy in dealing with the leftist narrative being peddled by the Media, opposition parties and the so called intellectuals from the field of arts, culture, education and the Aman Ki Asha Brigade; it has not been able to prevent a perception of doom and chaos in the country, post May 2014. The success of the Surgical Strikes has given a shot in the arm of the BJP functionaries and its supporters, who had almost given up on its chances of retaining control of Punjab, Goa and Gujarat, and wresting back UP in the coming assembly elections. The Army’s action against terrorists has provided the BJP with the necessary impetus for launching a nationalist campaign to position itself as the only party capable of bringing glory to the country. It therefore is obvious that the naysayers have been rattled and are in a tizzy. The political parties who were looking to make their mark or regain their hold over the above mentioned states see red and are unable to counter the BJPs nationalist narrative. The leftist brigade, who has been the recipient of the previous Govt’s largesse, sees its eminence taking a beating under the present Govt and therefore continuation of the BJP govt at the national and state levels would spell doom for them and their comfortable existence. Hence, in order to deny BJP its brownie points they would not mind siding with the people who are not only anti BJP but at times anti national. They would rather believe a Pakistani face saving narrative of denying the Surgical Strikes than to believe their own DGMO, who has put his 36 years long career on line when he made his crisp statement on the strikes. To such people and political parties I say – Go hop. India in one fell swoop has changed from a whining small boy facing a bully, to a man who can face the bully on his own terms and give him a bloody nose.

Taking advantage of a favourable situation is good, and BJP needs to cash on present mood of the nation. However it needs to keep a few things in mind as it heads to the polls. To the BJP I would say play your hand in a subtle manner. By all means tom tom about your achievements, but it would be better to follow the method adopted to announce the Surgical Strikes. Acknowledge the achievements of your Army but don’t put the faces of your leaders on the posters especially holding weapons in their hands, as if, these pot bellied politicians went across the LoC. Where possible felicitate and project your armed forces, so that the ground that you lost with them over the OROP and 7CPC may be regained. Get the issues affecting the Armed Forces resolved at the earliest. Do not go overboard with your celebrations. No political battle is over till the last vote is cast and counted. Follow up your advantage with actual work on the ground, as the joke going around says – Akela Modi bechara kya kya karega. Keep the rhetoric under check and do not term anyone who disagrees with you as a Pakistani. There are enough other ways to keep them in their place.

Finally to the Army I say well done mates, you have made every Indian proud. Be safe and be alert. May the Gods look over you. To the countrymen I say, be happy and enjoy the festive season because someone out there is keeping you safe by giving up his comfort and chance to celebrate this festive season with his near and dear ones.

JAI HIND

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HISTORIAN’S RANT

 

 

 

On 17th March 2016,  I came across a news item on the Zee News Online that an ‘Eminent Historian’ of the country Mr Ramchandra Guha, who also alternates as an expert on cricket, spoke at the inaugural session of a literary festival in New Delhi. As per Zee News Mr Guha, the historian, had this to say and I quote,

          “The rising of Hindu nationalism in the country is not new. It happened immediately after Partition and during Ram Janmabhoomi movement, and both were orchestrated by the Rashtriya Swayamsevek Sangh (RSS). It has severely affected the secular, cultural and political fabric of the country, and I hope that the situation shouldn`t escalate to that level.”  He also noted that Hindu fundamentalism is more threatening than Islamic terrorism in India. “The reason is within India, Hindus are 85 per cent. I am terrified at the thought of Hindu majoritarianism, because that is what we were not,” adding that Islamic terrorism is a dangerous phenomenon in the global scenario.

He goes on to talk about how the most dangerous politicians in the country were Amit shah and Azam Khan and “BJP is the most anti-intellectual party and they failed to produce a single scholar in Gujarat after being in power for many years. You can`t have spokespersons as Anupam Kher, Praveen Togadia or Smriti Irani, who will only drive discourse further into the mud. As long as the RSS has the role in the political dispensation, you will never get right-wing intellectuals, but you get right-wing ideologists,”

While Mr Guha is entitled to his views on politics and politicians as per his political leanings, what got my goat, so to speak, was his rather condescending remark that “Everyone has their own role. Soldiers have their place and students have their own. The attack on universities is worrisome,” insinuating thereby that soldiers were not students or had not been students and should not interfere in the so called academic pursuit of the students of our universities. In his scheme of things “Scholarship has a place in moulding the consciousness of the nation. The tendency to belittle scholars, scholarships and universities is unfortunate. Though one should not exaggerate how widespread it is, what is happening around JNU is worrisome”.

Mr Guha who is regarded as a Historian has authored books like `India After Gandhi`, `Makers of Modern India`, `Patriots and Partisans` and `Gandhi Before India` and felt that “the situation was not as hopeless as portrayed by media, but it could be more hopeful, as the interest in books is also increasing” while referring to the controversy at the Jawaharlal Nehru university. Guha’s new book `Democrats and Dissenters` is likely to hit the stands in October, as per Zee News.

Mr. Guha considers himself as a Historian, and his area of Historical research is restricted to India of 20th century and specifically the history shaped by the two great Indians of that century i.e. Mr. MK Gandhi and Mr. JL Nehru. I must confess here that other than reading India after Gandhi, I have not read all his historical researches, but have heard him speak on Television and You Tube and have read a number of his articles which are published in the Main Stream Media as Op Eds. From what I have read it comes out quite clearly that Mr. Guha is a diehard Nehru Fan, and for him Nehru could do no wrong and the initial direction given by Nehru to the country is the reason India is such a great country. He is an out an out Congress supporter though he writes at times on the inadequacies of the present Congress leadership. Although he tries to project himself as a balanced political commentator, but I am afraid his political biases are pretty evident. He is a heavily left leaning ‘intellectual’ who dismisses any so called ‘Right Wing’ thought as inadequate and pedestrian, and in keeping with the contempt the left leaning historians have for anything saffron, he considers himself as the champion of ‘Left liberal thought’ and the self appropriated title of  protectors of ‘Secular ideals’. I have no problems with Mr. Guha’s leftist thinking as long as he restricts himself to criticizing the Right Wing politics and it’s champion the RSS, but I do take umbrage to Mr. Guha intruding in my space i.e. the Armed Forces and my religious belief. And therefore, I shall restrict my rejoinder to these two aspects.

Mr. Guha has been a long critic of imposition of Armed Forces Special Powers Act and has written extensively on the subject, to the extent of making some unsavory comments on the functioning of the Armed Forces. In one of his articles on Manipur he wrote about ‘the massive and at times overbearing presence of the Army’ and how the locals despised the Assam Rifles. While Mr. Guha is free to air his views about the Indian Army’s functioning, I find it rather appalling that Mr. Guha should deny me and the other veterans of the Indian Armed Forces the opportunity to air our views on the goings on in a University, of which some of us have been recipient of the graduation degrees. Equally appalling is the thought in the so called Left Liberal World that soldiers should do soldiering and not interfere in what goes on in the other institutions of the country, in the instance case the JNU. While the soldier is restricted by his oath to his country and the special restrictions imposed on him due to Army Act, during the course of his service, to assume that the soldier should not have an opinion on matters of concern to the well being of the country, even after he has hung his uniform is rather condescending and questions the thinking ability of a soldier. Mr Guha should realize that the soldiers also have gone through colleges and are at times quite well read and knowledgeable about the issues of national concern. To come to the case in point regarding JNU, it is surprising that Mr. Guha should feel that the soldiers of the country should keep quiet even when slogan alluding to war against the country and breaking it up in pieces are being openly shouted in the name of free speech. If nationalism and patriotism are not the sole propriety article of the Armed Forces, then neither is the intellectual space the sole prerogative of the so called ‘Left Liberals’ who of late are being referred to as ‘Adarsh Liberals’, due to their myopic politically correct views and double standards with regards to acceptance of Freedom of Expressions of people ideologically at variance to the Leftist world view. It would be contra factual to assume that the ex soldiers cannot have political opinions or ability to understand the political shenanigans of the campus politics. Be that as it may, it is high time that the soldiers when out of uniform, should be able to take studied and well considered view on issues of security and integrity of the country, whether on the streets of J&K and North East or in the campuses of universities like JNU and Jadhavpur University, and more importantly be able to articulate their views at the appropriate forum.

The other aspect of Mr. Guha’s talk that I disagree with is his insinuation that Hindu fundamentalism is more dangerous than Islamic terrorism. He professes to be afraid of Hindu majoritarianism, because India is 85percent Hindu country. What Mr. Guha tends to overlook, is the fact that, because India is 85 percent Hindu, Mr. Guha has the freedom to abuse the majority religion of the country without fear of any backlash and retaliation. India has a rich history of never imposing its ancient religion on anyone through fear or intimidation. Hinduism believes that the entire world is one big family or ‘Vasudaiva Kutumbakam’ and that there is one Truth but the path to it may vary. Or ‘Ekum sat vipra bahudha vadanti’ which literally means “that which exists is One, sages call it by various names”. This is the spiritual heritage of India, where in every one has the right to follow his or her belief without fear of discrimination. Unfortunately this cannot be said of many other countries of the world that follow different beliefs. And yet Mr. Guha felt it necessary to belittle the rich tradition of religious tolerance of this great country. But then I presume it was more due to Mr. Guha’s ideological compulsions rather than his religious belief which made him say such things. Perhaps it may also be an attempt to create controversy ahead of his impending release of his book, to boost its sales that he made such a remark which is in line with his limited thinking on the issue of Hinduism, and therefore needs to be dismissed as rant of an Adarsh Liberal with the contempt that it deserves.

Mr. Guha had once written that The threat to India from Hindutva bigotry was at its most intense from about 1989 to about 2004’ which was the period when this self confessed Nehru dynasty fan’s favorite family was not at the helm of power. He was out of favour with the political dispensation at the centre of that time and had lost his relevance as an intellectual. It seems Mr. Guha has become irrelevant again.

LESSONS FROM MILITARY HISTORY AND OROP

Perhaps the most well documented history of the warfare was written post the two World Wars. While the WWI was known more for its prolonged trench warfare, the advent of Tanks changed the whole concept of warfare and necessitated change in thinking process of the commanders in field and relied more on the ability to think on the feet in fluid battle situations thrown up by mobile warfare. The WWII saw many Generals being thrown up who have been discussed threadbare by a number of war historians and readers of Military History world over. On one side were ranged Generals like Guderian, Rommel, Von Manstein, Patton and Wingate, who were known for bold use of their resources, making do with what they had, and achieving outstanding victories due to their ability to think on their feet and ability to react quickly and decisively in the face of changing situations. Other side comprised people like Von Runstedt, Von Paulus, Mac Arthur, Eisenhower, Monty, Bradley, Slim and Zhukov who were considered more conservative in their thinking, amassing great number of troops and resources and with their grit and tenacity more often than not overcome the adversity and notched up some amazing victories. Both the types of Generals had their fair share of Military defeats and victories but in the end the side which could sustain the war for the longer duration and provide the wherewithal to its troops won the day. In short may I stick my neck out to say that the first type won spectacular battles but the wars were won by the latter variety of Generals, though not all of them ended up on the winning side.

Why was it? Why was it that the Generals who were more staid and conservative in their thinking ended up on the winning side more often than not, while the so called ‘Guderians’ ended up on the losing side. The answer perhaps lay in the backing of their Government/country, ability to amass resources, support from friendly forces and not so large an impact on warfare of the changes in technology till then. I know I am sticking my neck out here and proponents of technology will contest my statement, citing examples of impact of Tanks, Air Force and Atomic weapons but I still stand by my convictions that, given part of the support that the conservative Generals got, the flamboyant Generals would have ended up on winning side which was demonstrated by the likes of Patton. However with the explosion of latest technology in the field of warfare, especially in this information age, has changed the way we would now fight future wars and battles and the type of leadership that is required to do so. In my personal view days of long drawn out battles with the entire resources of the country being available are gone for good. The war which are short, swift and limited in scope, would be more successful than prolonged campaigns. This will require our Military Leadership to be more like the Rommels, Pattons etc than like Eisenhowers, Zhukovs, Montys and their ilk.

So what are the conclusions one would draw from these examples and how it can be transposed on our current battles and our present leadership among the ESM, especially for our fight for OROP. For me the conclusions and parallels that I draw between WWII and our fight for OROP are as follows:-

  • In order to be successful one needs the backing of the whole country/community.
  • Building up an alliance or at least forging unity among all the stake holders is essential for success.
  •   There is a need to retain the ability to think on your feet and change track when necessary.
  • Need to be bold, decisive and have self belief in your abilities and conviction, even against stiff opposition from friendly forces rather than wait to build the consensus and amass resources and in the bargain let the opportunity slip out of your hand.
  • Have ability to recognize the opportunities offered and lurking threats and plan ahead.
  • Be ruthless with your enemies, and do not give them the opportunity to regroup and reorganise
  • Know when to cut your losses and when to exit. Extremely important, in the light of fast changing situation.
  • For the larger good keep your ego aside and if required step aside for others to take over. Classic case, Monty better General but Eisenhower led the invasion.
  • Use technology as a force multiplier using the entire spectrum and do not rely on only one medium or dimension.
  • Shift track as the situation develops and if required move your area of operation or even your base of Headquarters.

Now, just analyze our present OROP agitation on the lines of the above and see if what we did was in keeping with the needs of Military Leadership. In other words to ask ourselves, whether, our Ex Servicemen Military Leadership was really prepared for the fight.

  • Did we have the backing of the whole ESM community? No, the movement did not have adequate representation from all services, regions and ranks and also was not a united effort.
  • Did we forge alliances or unite all stake holders? No, the movement was dominated by Army Officers from North India. Only token presence from other two services.
  • Did we change track in our agitation or we continued on the same beaten track, reinforcing failures, even when the opposite side outwitted you. No, we stuck to one form of agitation and did not change our tactics with the developing situation.
  • For everything there was an effort at consensus building at Jantar Mantar. You were given a mandate by ESM to do something where was the need to keep asking ‘Kya hum aise karein?’ Should have taken bold steps to change the nature of the agitation and not follow the beaten path.
  • Did we recognize the opportunities and the threats? No. Govt presented us the opportunity to end the agitation twice before the OROP announcement, but we did not take it. A brilliant opportunity was offered post the JNU agitation but we scuttled it. There was that circular by Col Kaul for the Unity march on 23 Feb but internal politics of UFESM cancelled the event. As regards threats, we took a wrong decision to back political parties with least credibility against the ruling dispensation in Bihar and now in Punjab. We all know that Laloo’s Jungle Raj is back in Bihar and we have contributed to it. Don’t look for support from parties who are seen to be siding with guys shouting anti national slogans in JNU. They will use you and have no clout to help you achieve your aim.
  • You knew General Kadyan was your enemy when he ditched you to go abroad just when the agitation was starting. Why did you not take steps firstly to evict him from the organisation and secondly lodge FIRs against him (this last bit I am not aware of, maybe I am wrong here).
  • This point is connected with the fifth bullet point mentioned above. The agitation had petered out by Nov 15. It was off the media radar and off the people’s mind who thought that the government has given the Ex Servicemen what they wanted. The UFESM should have ended the agitation and approached the courts. Even when the 54 NDA Course presented an opportunity to exit keeping your honour intact following the JNU disclosures, you continued to sit on dharna.
  • Should have developed second rung of leadership in the struggle and if someone like Col Kaul took the initiative to call for a Unity March from Jantar Mantar to India Gate, the ESM leadership should have gracefully withdrawn and allowed him to take the movement forward.
  • Too much insistence and reliance on TV channels to cover your agitation over a prolonged period was counterproductive as we saw at Jantar Mantar, with vacant media tents with no media personnel around. Should have used other social media and burst advertisement technique. Should have made some factually correct movies, giving out the complete history and background of the demand for OROP, and uploaded them on Youtube. The present media cell of the UFESM is limited in its scope, reach, resources and even spokespersons. Get new and younger people in the media cell and have fresh faces representing the ESM on the TV channels to discuss issues connected with Armed Forces and then use them, when required, for spreading the message regarding OROP.
  • Parking yourself at Jantar Mantar and converting it into a place of social interaction between retired ex servicemen on their way to and from CSD canteen or ECHS clinic, made the whole movement lose its seriousness. Jantar Mantar was available to only people in NCR or within 100 KM radius of  the National Capital. Delhi is not India. No one even thought of moving base for sometime at least to south of Vindhyas. So many of our ex-servicemen brethren belong to those and other far off places especially from other services, have been left out of this agitation. At the cost of being politically incorrect, I must say that this agitation was seen as a purely North Indian Punjabi Officer class agitation excluding people from other places. Thus the Government could afford to cock a snook at you.

So, what does this mean? Are we done with and now have to lump whatever we are offered by way of OROP? Do we not challenge the hegemony of our bureaucratic class? Do we let the Government off the hook? The answer is NO. Our present leadership of the OROP agitation has to shift away from the Zhukov and Monty models and be more like Rommel and Patton. We need to change our modus operandi and shift away from Kejriwalesque dharna tactics. Let us adopt the legal route. Let us not be confrontational. Until you can unite yourself as a vote bank, no political party is going to take you seriously. We have to work with the Government and not against it. We are not used to fighting political battles and nor do we have the resources for it. And finally we have to graduate from a single personalised agenda group to being responsible citizens of this great country who can constructively and positively contribute for the well being of our ESM community and the nation.

Getting Started

Approaching the age closer to senility, it takes either great courage or sheer madness to wade into something which has been alien to you for so long. For a self proclaimed technologically challenged recently Re – Attired and Re – Employed man of uniform, the desire to share ones ideas, experiences, trials and tribulations from behind the cloak of anonymity, and the pull of technology was too strong to resist and therefore on prodding from my friends and well wishers I have launched myself into the bloggers world.
Judge me not for my writing skills or the lack thereof, but for what this overaged maverick has to share with you. Questioning my own beloved organisation, and trying to find answers to some questions which I could not raise while in service, has motivated me to launch headlong in the blogosphere. I hope you enjoy my musings and rantings, and would be kind enough to leave a comment or two for my betterment and knowledge of my other readers in future. Happy reading.