Is it time to take a deep and sombre look at what the surgical strikes along the Line of Control on September 29 have achieved?
The question is not ‘anti-national’. The routine killing and mutilation of soldiers, in fact, necessitates a review and not only because three more army jawans were killed on Tuesday and bodies of two soldiers were mutilated in less than a month. The question is relevant because India and Pakistan appear to be locked in a bloody tit-for-tat with no exit route in sight.
The Northern Command that tweeted the news of the killings also said, “Retribution will be heavy for this cowardly act.” Similarly, a few days after Sepoy Mandeep Singh was killed and his body mutilated on October 28, the Northern Command made its ‘retribution’ public on the microblogging site, saying, “Four Pak posts destroyed in massive fire assault in Keran Sector. Heavy casualties inflicted.”
Addressing the media after the strikes, Director General, Military Operations, had said, “The operations were basically focused to ensure that these terrorists do not succeed in their design of infiltration and carrying out destruction and endangering the lives of citizens of our country…During these counter terrorist operations, significant casualties have been caused to the terrorists and those who are trying to support them…”
As many as 13 army jawans were killed along the LoC since September 29 and if the aim of the surgical strikes was to rein in the infiltrators, then that certainly is not the case. The strikes, in fact, have drastically altered the rules of the game for the soldier. The ceasefire agreement of 2003 is in tatters and the daily dose of mortar and artillery fire have the jawans on their toes. The author visited the LoC recently and found that the soldiers are now not just looking for infiltrating terrorists. They are also guarding against sniper attacks from Pakistani Rangers and the battle action teams (BATs) comprising jihadis from the Lashkar-e-Taiba and the Jaish-e-Mohammad. In the unequal proxy war that has become sharp and intense, leaves have been curtailed and commanding officers are up all night and in constant touch with their company commanders. The next attack can come at any time, any place.
It would not be wrong to argue that the surgical strikes — which helped the government score political brownie points domestically — were a tactical, not a strategic move. Says strategic expert Ajai Sahni, “We slapped Pakistan and told them that they deserved the slap, but what’s next? The government has not gone beyond tactical responses. The political and diplomatic endgame was not worked out. The soldier is asking: but we are still doing trade with Pakistan.’’
Taking political ownership of the strikes has in fact upped the ante and unlike past winters, officers commanding units along the LoC know they’re in for a turbulent one.
Should the government then have conducted the strikes and not gone public with the announcement? Says former army chief General Bikram Singh, who was in office when the first beheading took place in 2013, “Since the senior political leadership had announced retribution after the Uri attack, it was important to place the retaliatory surgical strikes in the public domain. It was important to give a strong message not just to Pakistan of our resolve, but even to the international community that Pakistan had to be dealt with differently. Having avenged Uri, it may be prudent now to leave the tactical operations to the local commanders, unless the national intent, as part of a strategy, is to go beyond the tactical arena.”
The government clearly needs to ponder over Chinese General and philosopher Sun Tzu’s wise words: Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.