There are many ways to read DGMO Lieutenant-General Ranbir Singh's revelation on surgical strikes on terrorist launch pads across the Line of Control by our defence forces. The most important are those seen from the perspective of messaging and timing.
While former top defence personnel have told television channels that such strikes in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) are not unusual, last night’s action merits consideration as it comes days after the terrorist attack at Uri which claimed 18 soldiers. To those who had started resigning themselves to the possibility that India had settled into the business as usual routine – a lot of noise, dire threats and little visible follow-up action – the DGMO’s announcement would bring in some sense of relief. The attack called for some retaliatory action, any action, from the defence forces, if not to teach a lesson to Pakistan then to convince our countrymen that our military is strong enough to hit back.
The government, too, had to display some muscular action. Diplomatic and economic assaults on Pakistan are fine, but these are too sophisticated as tools of warfare to satisfy the common man’s urge for revenge, bloody and immediate. It had to dispel the notion that it was as bad as other governments before it while it came to dealing with terrorism pouring through the borders. The surgical strike on terrorist camps may not mean much as a warning to Pakistan and the killing of a few terrorists does not make up for India’s loss in terms of soldiers but the government can rest assured that after Thursday's announcement it will regain some popularity points.
The DGMO made it clear that the action was against terrorists and that the Pakistani Army was informed about the action. He also said the defence forces were not planning to repeat the action. As wordings go, his announcement was factual, to the point, as military announcements ought to be. However, the impression it conveyed was India did not want to escalate matters. The presence of the spokesman of the External Affairs Ministry alongside him perhaps had to do something with it.
The announcement would keep warmongers silent. They wanted a full-fledged war; at least they have something they can talk about. It is not satisfying but something to manage with. It would be interesting to note how the government proceeds from now. It can work on a long-term strategy to tame Pakistan in peace.