The surgical strike against the terrorist camps along the Line of Control (LoC) announced by the Army has confirmed what had been anticipated over the last few days: namely that the Modi team would ‘respond’ in an appropriate manner to the enormity of the Uri terror attack.
This strike was a limited counter-terror operation with a clear set of signals embedded in it -- and some of them can be decoded from the press briefing of the director general of military operations, Lt. General Ranbir Singh, on Thursday.
As the phrase surgical-strike suggests, this was a precise incision, with a limited objective: neutralising the terrorist pads that were likely to be used for strikes against targets in India. It is understood that credible intel had been obtained over the last week that alerted the local commanders of what was afoot. This was conveyed up the chain and for the political leadership, a resolute decision had to be taken.
At the press briefing it was confirmed that the attack was against terror infrastructure along the LoC, and that the objective had been realised.
Thus one can infer that the objective was neutralising terror assets -- and that there was no tangible threat to Pakistan’s territorial integrity -- much less its sovereignty. Concurrently it was added by the Indian DGMO that he had informed his Pakistani counterpart -- meaning thereby that there was a LoC-specific communication protocol that had been adhered to.
The nuanced signal here -- to my mind -- is that India does not wish to escalate the military operation. As Lt. General Ranbir Singh stated: there were no plans for any further operations. The target was an imminent terror threat and this had been neutralised by India.
The inference that follows is that the onus for restraint or escalation is now on Rawalpindi, the General Headquarters of the Pakistan military. If Rawalpindi wishes to be part of the regional and global effort against terror, this may be an opportunity to begin the process of engaging with India and other neighbours who have been targeted by these terror groups.
If on the other hand, Pakistan seeks retribution by conventional military power, or other means including the sleeper cells/ terror modules, India must be prepared for difficult days in the near future.
However, such an action would also further tarnish Rawalpndi’s profile as a sponsor and supporter of terror and the selective approach it pursues. India apart, Afghanistan and Bangladesh have a similar anxiety. The nuclear sabre-rattling will cause some global disquiet but as was the case in Kargil 1999: this will be seen for the red-herring it is when Pakistan’s core national interests are not threatened in any manner. Unless of course, Rawalpindi chooses to so describe the groups that engage in terrorism against India. The wriggle room for Rawalpindi and the deep-state is shrinking.
And the domestic political message is clear. After this surgical strike, for now at least, PM Modi emerges as a leader who is indeed committed to defend India’s security interests -- come what may. This is the firm action that was promised during his election campaign and his core team has delivered.
Without falling into the trap of post-event clairvoyance, it may be conjectured that the PM’s Kozhikode speech and that of the external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj at the UN General Assembly had a sub-text that elliptically conveyed this political resolve of the BJP-led NDA government. To me this subtext was that on national security matters, the Modi government will not be the Congess with a cow!
However, what needs to be tracked now is the response from Pakistan and the trajectory that the post-surgical strike days will follow.
(The writer is the director of Society for Policy Studies. The views expressed are personal.)