The much-overhyped surgical strikes will be celebrated by the nation and tributes will be paid to the armed forces across the country from 28 to 30 September. The chief of the Indian Army General Bipin Rawat in a media interaction with TV channels on 24 September, said, "I believe there is a need for one more action (surgical strike). But I would not want to disclose how we want to do it." He added, "Surgical strike is a weapon of surprise. Let it remain a surprise."
The chief's statement has been much discussed and debated both within India and in Pakistan. The intended signal is clear: Pakistan should stop cross-border terrorism or else be prepared to pay the price. However, there is an apparent disconnect at the politico-military level, which is surprising especially as two years ago during the conduct of the surgical strikes, there was total and complete synergy at the politico-military-diplomatic and information domains — which is exceptional given our structures.
Two years ago on the night of 28 and 29 September, India demonstrated unprecedented politico-military will in executing its first-ever 'surgical strikes' — a punitive action and a reaction to the Pakistan-perpetuated terrorist attack in Uri wherein 19 soldiers were killed. The surgical strikes triggered the imagination of the people, instilling a sense of pride in a nation. India and Indians have silently suffered the consequences of Pakistan's proxy war for nearly four decades as it continues to successfully wage a 'low-cost high-effect' war with impunity, resorting to the rhetoric of nuclear weapons.
Pakistan believed that it could bleed India with a thousand cuts by carrying out terror strikes as a state policy and hence the surgical strike, which aimed to convey a strategic signal to Pakistan that it can no longer take India's patience for granted. The surgical strikes signalled a strategic resolve to execute punitive strikes and raise the costs for Pakistan. The strikes achieved the end objectives in creating a strategic dilemma for Pakistan.
Surgical strikes are a threat in being, a work in progress. This is a pragmatic and internationally acceptable response to Pakistan policy of waging a proxy war on India with a low probability of escalation. The threat of surgical strikes raises the cost for Pakistan, a cost it can ill-afford given its economic situation and hence, it is an imperative to retain the viability of this threat. Surgical strikes are also a very sensitive and delicate operation with no room for error. Failure is not an option. Even a single soldier having been left behind dead or injured can be a national embarrassment, as he will be paraded as a Pakistan victory and an Indian military failure.
These strikes are high risk and have a high probability of failure. As executing surgical strikes is a political decision, it will be near impossible for a government to risk undertaking such sensitive operations for fear of failure and the associated consequences of escalation. The Narendra Modi government took a bold decision risking a huge amount of political capital in conducting the strikes and hence, the government was justified in drawing political mileage out of it, which it did. However, to continue drawing political mileage has its own negatives and consequences, even though it may contribute to the 2019 General Election and also divert attention from the ongoing Rafale controversy.
The planned nationwide celebrations and commemoration of the surgical strikes — Parakram Parv — indicate that the chapter of further surgical strikes is closed despite Rawat's claims that these remain an option. It is unfortunate that the government has decided to commemorate and celebrate the surgical strikes after two years to draw political mileage.
What the government has effectively done by celebrating the surgical strikes akin to a Vijay Diwas is to foreclose the option of carrying out any further surgical strikes.
The strategic communication to the Pakistani military, the discerning in Pakistan and the strategic community all over the world is clear: That there will be no more strikes. The reason is simple as no government can afford the political costs of a failure on account of the overhyped celebrations leading to high expectations of the public. Any future strikes that do not yield a hundred percent success will be tantamount to political harakiri given the charged political atmosphere. The prospect of failure will be too huge a gamble for any government to take and face.
The author is a retired lieutenant-general of the Indian Army and former Director-General of Military Operations
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Updated Date: Sep 26, 2018 12:04:57 IST