The Opposition must stop politicising national security
India faces acute external threats. We have to be united within to meet them but we have become so divided that sections of the political class, the media, security experts, retired bureaucrats and members of civil society are adopting positions that in effect create distrust in the government, erode public support for military decisions taken, weaken national resolve and damage national security as a result.
India is very cautious about military interventions abroad for national security reasons. We act in self-defence, and that too not always because of limited defence capabilities and external factors. We did not take military action despite the grievous provocation of the 2008 Mumbai terrorist killings, or in 2001 when our Parliament was targeted and we threatened but did not attack Pakistan. During the Kargil war we fought purely defensively, with instructions to our air force not to cross the Line of Control (LoC). In 2106, we decided to warn Pakistan that its policy of promoting terrorism through “non-state actors” will have a state response from us. But these strikes were limited in scope, consistent with our military self-restraint. The Balakot strike was a sharper warning, but with de-escalation built into it with our announcement that it was a non-military pre-emptive strike against terrorist targets, the onus being on Pakistan to escalate.
Rather than show solidarity with the government in the difficult decision it took after Pulwama and applaud the narrowing of Pakistan’s future options to bleed us with terrorism, a coalition of anti-BJP forces have questioned the authenticity of the Balakot operation, sought proof, magnified the controversy over the number of casualties, purveyed the Pakistani version of the strike and quoted foreign sources to refute government claims. By this they have exposed the divisions in the country on our hardened response to terrorism and given comfort to Pakistan.
This has happened earlier too. The 2016 surgical strikes were questioned similarly and proof was sought in the light of denials by Pakistan that they took place at all. No thought was given to the morale of those who risked their lives in the operation. In 2017, when the Doklam stand-off occurred, instead of firmly closing ranks behind the government, the narrative was sought to be changed against what the government had achieved by accusing it of a botched-up operation that has left the Chinese more entrenched on the plateau than before.
The obsessive attacks on the Rafale contract, despite the findings of no wrongdoing by the Supreme Court and the CAG and the public clarifications given by the top air force brass to prevent an acquisition vital for national security from being derailed, is one more instance of party politics taking priority over the country’s defence. Modi’s remark about the Rafale changing the result of the recent operation against Pakistan has been twisted by the opposition when what he meant was that the superior capabilities of the Rafale (see further, see better, see first) would have better countered the AMRAM armed F 16’s .
The government did not time the Pulwama strike or respond more forcefully with electoral gains in mind. It took a bigger military risk in challenging the Chinese at Doklam, and that was not a make believe exercise with electoral considerations in mind. The government needs praise for changing the paradigm of our response to Pakistani terrorism by the Balakot operation rather than be accused of staging a suspect show. How is the larger national purpose served by seeking to put the government on the defensive over a bold military operation against a sworn enemy?
If a BJP leader mentions a high figure of Pakistani casualties without official confirmation, he could be boosting national morale rather than violating some political and moral code at the expense of the lives of our brave soldiers. Why create a raging controversy over a minor matter when the air strike ordered at Pakistan proper has much larger strategic implications? This was a major political decision by the government, it bore the ultimate responsibility for it, and it can, therefore, legitimately claim political credit for the strike, without being accused of politicising national security. It is casuistry to argue that it is the military that attacked and took the risks and the credit should therefore go to it alone.
Those politicising national security are primarily the opposition political parties who have questioned the professional integrity of the armed forces, desperately want to dislodge Modi from power and fear that the BJP will gain from Balakot, the leftists who place ideology above country, the pro-Pakistan lobbies who argue that Pakistan’s behaviour can only change through a dialogue, and those who implicitly justify Pakistani terrorism by arguing that we have invited it by mismanaging the internal situation in J&K.
Kanwal Sibal is former foreign secretary
The views expressed are personal