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Modi Government Should Be Ashamed Of Politicising Surgical Strikes

Matters of war and peace should not be conducted under the glare of media and public opinion.

I have noticed that “surgical strikes” now have a way of periodically striking “surgically” at our collective consciousness ever since we first came to hear of it in September 2016. Take for instance the video footage that was recently being aired on TV news channels, claiming it to be of the surgical strikes.

People who claim they are privy to the workings of Lutyens’ Delhi claim the government was compelled to leak the footage in light of the exceptionally strong criticism by former Union minister Arun Shourie when he called them “farcical strikes” in an interview.

Whatever be the reason, the releasing of the footage certainly seems to have preempted the likely plans of the current dispensation to release them closer to 2019 General Elections for obvious political reasons. Given how all that chest beating reaped huge benefits for the BJP in the 2017 Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections.

That surgical strikes were authentic and carried out cannot be questioned, but Shourie hit the nail on its head by hinting at the farcical manner in which the issue has been politicised by Modi government to draw political mileage.

Some genuine questions, however, remain unanswered, which the TV channels attempted to unravel through a fresh round of prime-time debates last week

The one such debate that I was part of comprised spokespersons of ruling party and Opposition Congress, along with a retired major general.

The argument was quick to advance in favour of surgical strikes and how it showcased the capability of the Indian Army to strike back. The BJP spokesperson stated that the strikes displayed a political resolve of the present government to teach Pakistan a harsh lesson, which the previous government failed to do.

When reminded that such strikes took place in the past too, the BJP spokesperson and the retired Army officer attempted strenuously to differentiate this with the others, claiming this was completely different.

This is untrue. In my assessment, these strikes were no different from other Border Action Team operations carried out in the past.

Parwin Sawhney, the noted defence analyst, in a recently published article rightly states, the admission by the Army (in the press conference the day after strikes) that Pakistani DGMO had been informed of the strikes immediately after it was conducted, and that India had no further plans of strikes, betrayed India’s lack of preparedness for retaliatory strikes and further escalation of hostilities along LoC.

This would hardly be the case.

An important question that begs clarity is whether the strikes achieved what strategically set out to do, of deterring Pakistan. Did the tactical aim of de-escalating tensions along the border help?

The answer, unfortunately, is no. Pakistan has not cared otherwise, even the statistics released by government will tell you that. There have been more than 70 terrorist related activities since, including more than 2,700 cases of ceasefire violations and more than 150 civilians and soldiers killed, on the borders as well as in Kashmir Valley.

The footage has even exposed the Pakistanis lie about the strikes.

Point is why are we so concerned about what Pakistan says? We know that we had carried out the strikes and there the matter should have rested. The Indian Army didn’t need a certificate, least of all from Pakistan, to say we did so.

The Indian Army was also not under any pressure to release the footage to the public. A private briefing organised for the Opposition about the strikes would have gone a long way in building rapport and decreasing the levels of acrimony between them.

The absence of any such action either at the time of the strikes or even now betrays the desire of ruling party to derive political mileage from the strikes

Firstly, it was a mistake to publicly announce the strikes. Retaining the option of deniability is important in such matters.

Matters of war and peace should not be conducted under the glare of media and public opinion. Therefore, one cannot but conclude that the public announcement of strikes was aimed at reaping one thing political mileage.

Other questions also need to be asked: who released the footage? Why was it released to only select channels? Why was it not released officially as was the case while announcing the conduct of strikes over a press conference? Did the release have official sanction of the government? If not, then is it not a matter of enquiry as to who leaked the footage?

Questions must also be raised about the authenticity of the footage, since they have not been released officially. Lt General Hooda, the then Northern Army commander, appears to be authenticating them, but then the government must too.

The government is too busy taking political mileage out of this grave security issue.

Spokespersons of ruling party are not helping matters by aggressively denouncing Opposition in this regard. Instead of projecting facts, they are resorting to accusations and hurling names.

In fact, the spokesperson, in the debate in which I participated, went on to accuse the Congress spokesperson of anti-national intent. Needless to say, the debate degenerated into a cacophony of a slandering duel.

The politicians must realise that both the Opposition and ruling parties have interest of the nation at heart. They will do well to realise that they are on the same side when it comes to fighting an external enemy.

The farce over surgical strikes must end.

The author is a Retd. Additional Director General of the Border Security Force.

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