Release of surgical strikes video footage is nothing but political skulduggery for upcoming 2019 polls

It is time to stop politicising the surgical strikes across the Line of Control (LoC) and the special forces. Don’t deal with overt operations like a soap opera. There are more serious issues than petty politics. For example, while some shout hoarse that orders to kill Rising Kashmir editor-in-chief Shujaat Bukhari came directly from Hafiz Saeed, what is the hierarchy going to do about it?

Video footage of surgical strikes conducted on 29 September, 2016 has been aired on TV channels, showing India's special forces crossing the LoC and destroying terrorist launch pads inside Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK). The footage was reportedly shot from drones, Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), and thermal imaging cameras. What is not mentioned is that ISRO's Cartosat-2C satellite was also monitoring the strikes, and since NSA Ajit Doval had spoken to his US counterpart before the strikes, it is obvious that US satellites too were perhaps monitoring the operation.

Concurrent to the airing of this video, Lt Gen DS Hooda, former northern army commander interviewed on TV, had stated, "The operation was monitored from a control room in Udhampur (headquarters of Northern Command)… the feed was also going to Delhi. One of the major challenges that the team that went across faced was that the camps were located close to Pakistan Army posts…The whole operation lasted for six hours. The first target was hit at midnight and the last at about 6-6.15."

 Release of surgical strikes video footage is nothing but political skulduggery for upcoming 2019 polls

Representational image. PTI

Doubts raised by politicians from the Opposition that these surgical strikes ever took place is the reason being given for releasing the video. But this question was being raised even in the immediate aftermath of the strikes, with Opposition fearing that the NDA would draw mileage in approaching elections.

So, while they supported the government action, they made direct and indirect suggestions that the strikes were a big hoax by the Centre. Even Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal had demanded photographic evidence. Some elements in the media continued to express these doubts. Pakistan’s ISPR was overjoyed and upped its demand for photographic evidence.

In response, the Indian Army had given a simple statement that the video footage of the strikes had been handed over to the government. But if ever a proof was needed about the strikes, it came from the then Pakistan prime minister Nawaz Sharif, whose immediate retort in condemning the surgical strikes referred to them as “unprovoked and naked aggression” by Indian forces. Also, the Special Branch (SP) of the Mirpur Range in PoK admitted, when cajoled into admission over the phone by an intrepid Indian journalist, that Pakistan Army was caught unawares by the strikes and at least five Pakistani soldiers and an unspecified number of militants were killed in the strikes.

Questions have been raised whether this was the first time such strikes were conducted. The answer is complicated because cross-LoC operations have been conducted in the past, but not on so many targets simultaneously. The strikes were a good signal to Pakistan but then, that was it. The BJP, however, went overboard, hoping to draw unprecedented mileage out of it.

First, the then defence minister Manohar Parrikar made statements in which he compared the Indian Army to Hanuman, making him the laughing stock. Next came the chest-thumping that Pakistan has been taught a lesson and that cross-border attacks will end. This was followed by articles, books, movies on the strikes and even participants being brought on TV with their faces covered.

Special operations are never advertised like this, especially when such operations need to be repeated, unlike the US raid to kill Osama bin Laden. Doing so endangers lives and reveals tactics. According to the participants, they never wanted the movie and appearances on TV, but orders came from Delhi. This was also corroborated by a very senior officer (now retired) up the chain involved in the strikes. Non-military persons involved in actually making the movie say the army "acquiesced" to making the movie.

The political fever of surgical strikes has obviously not abated. BJP president Amit Shah, while visiting a former army chief as part of the 'Sampark for Samarthan' campaign, prominently mentioned surgical strikes. The latter, while talking to the media later, also only talked about the strikes.

The video footage of surgical strikes has obviously been released keeping the elections next year in mind, aiming to portray that the BJP is proud of its army while the Opposition doubts it, and simultaneously deflecting from the flak that BJP is facing for degradation of army soldiers. Issues like opening all military cantonments in contravention of the Official Secrets Act, even countervailing court orders, and empowering corrupt defence estates also don't help the BJP.

Addressing a press conference, the Congress chief spokesperson has stated that while on one hand, the Modi government is seeking credit for the sacrifice and valour of the armed forces, on the other, it has failed to provide direction and vision to deal with Pakistan. He also accused the Centre of "step-motherly treatment" of the armed forces by not providing them with state-of-the-art equipment etc. But the soldiers are not amused. If the same Congress spokesperson is asked direct questions related to defence during UPA I and UPA II tenures, he may not know where to hide.

Factually, both BJP and Congress are responsible for the gross under-equipping of the armed forces and degradation of the soldiers.

The author is a veteran lieutenant-general of the Indian Army.

Updated Date: Jun 28, 2018 19:07:05 IST