The substance of surgical strikes

Analysing Indian claims

Indian claim of surgical strike across Line of Control is perhaps the most frenzied buzzword making headlines in the entire world. The raid, according to Lieutenant General Ranbir Singh, Indian army DGMO, entailed carefully chosen targets based on a weeklong surveillance and calibrated destruction of at least seven “launchpads” – located between 1 and 3km across the de-facto border, which caused significant casualties to ready-to-infiltrate terrorists and their supporters. The operation was conducted by Paratroopers from the Udhampur-based Northern Command. In no time, the breaking news was booming on media channels across national divides especially in India and Pakistan.

Interestingly, the rapidity with which the news spread was confronted with almost equally swift eruption of probing questions challenging the substance of the Indian assertion. Primarily, the perplexity has transpired not only due to discrete construction of the term – surgical strike – by Indian authorities but increasingly so owing to vagueness implied in the strategic and operational aspects of reported operation. The bewilderment also stems from the Myanmar analogy wherein the Indian Special Forces executed a hard hitting counter-terrorist rapid operation in that country’s borderland during June 2015 even though in complete security vacuum, which was however jacked up instantaneously by substantial evidence. In the prevailing scenario, barring a brief statement nothing concrete was shared with polity, media or diplomatic circles. Another question that precipitated the void created by lack of alibi was whether the Indian military objectively possesses the wherewithal to undertake special operations against a vigilant adversary such as Pakistan.

Pakistani Government and military have rejected the Indian assertion, blaming it instead for raising the bogey by terming routine fire duals along the de facto boundary as a farce for surgical raid. The deaths of Pakistani soldiers is being attributed to the cross border fire exchanges. The media in two countries is now hotly debating the veracity of their positions – the dueling truths. Curiously, what adds to the emotionally charged environment is somewhat ambiguous Pakistani response and the subdued rhetoric to retaliate. Some Indian analysts argue that Pakistan’s denial is aimed at projecting to their masses that “nothing happened”, so they are under no obligation to take revenge.

In a mire characterized by conflicting standpoints, ascertaining truth becomes exceedingly difficult. There are a few indicators which can be helpful in engendering clarity. In the first place, denying a highly professional and well equipped institution such as the armed forces of India the capability to carryout unconventional warfare needs to be carefully posited. The existing force structure and ambitious development drive coupled with sustained training engagements makes these services least to suspect insofar their potential for special operations is concerned. Fighting an array of insurgencies at home further complements this prowess.

The surgical strike in question has a few credible elements – first, there was reported movement of hostile troops at several ingress points afforded by terrain configuration, in front of and close to Pakistani forward posts along LOC. It is unclear what objectives were assigned to these forces. These could even be counter-infiltration patrols, which might have, inadvertently, come dangerously close to the Pakistani safeguards in place. The intruders and other Indian posts in vicinity were thus targeted by Pakistani resulting in several casualties, which Pakistani media is repeatedly reporting. More importantly, the Indian DG MO called his Pakistani counterpart primarily to record a protest over violation of LOC, but faintly also informed about the surgical strike. The overture seemed a putative attempt to add credence to the position to be adopted. The region woke up with the stinging news of cross border strikes by India. It is safe to assume hence that the Indian decision to widely disseminate the information was a planned affair. Several reasons can be contemplated that conceivably account for this manouevure, among other, to pacify the domestic front, vying for a reckonable punishment to Pakistan in the wake of alleged terrorist attack at Uri army base which killed several Indian soldiers. More than any other, the war hype created by BJP leadership itself became a compelling pressure point to act.

Meanwhile, the field visit by journalists local and foreign, to scene of operation arranged by media wing of Pakistan Army which was accompanied by interviews of local population altogether has negated the occurrence and the existence of elusive dead terrorists, if any. India government on the other hand has withheld the visual proof that the military says will be made public soon, which deepens the suspicion of veracity of their claim.

The issue why Pakistan is playing with a measured sense of caution is important. One obvious reason could be the effort to prevent escalation especially when the unofficial channels reaching out to Pakistan government and General Ranbir’s categorical emphasis underscore the desire for de-escalation. This posturing may have been buttressed by pressure from major powers to manage the conflict at its present threshold. There is a possibility, conjecturally though, of a real response by Pakistan, not impulsively but at a time of own choosing. Such a decision may have been taken already but which necessitate keeping the rhetoric in check. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif hinted at this strategy during address to federal cabinet.

However, what would be most interesting to Pakistan at this juncture should be the preservation and perpetuation of the indigenous uprising in Indian Kashmir. This crucial feature of extant situation is the linchpin of entirety of mutual stratagem. While India would prefer to suppress the plight of Kashmiris by keeping moral pressure on Pakistan through promises of diplomatic isolation, coercion to scrape MFN status, boast of surgical strikes or water brinkmanship, for Pakistan it will be strategically advantageous to avoid war temperatures to rise.

In essence, while the Indian forces have the competence for sting intrusions, the claim of surgical strike across LOC is not only not substantiated by required testimony, from any measure, it is at best a false alarm or a crafty fabrication to assuage domestic bickering. Besides, an operation of the kind is unlikely to have gone unhurt in the face of an extensive, sophisticated and vigilant defence layout on Pakistani side. The situation is still unfolding, more will come to limelight to illuminate the truth depending upon how the environment evolves subsequent to critical political and security meetings underway in both the countries.

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