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.