Today, India marks one year of the surgical strikes launched on September 29, 2016, across the Line of Control (LoC) into Pakistan. The event coincided this year with an ambush along the Myanmar border on the NSCN (K) group, which has evaded talks and has been regularly attacking Indian forces and local civilians.
The period leading to the anniversary also included comments by Lt General DS Hooda, who as the Northern Army Commander had overseen the strike. His successor, Lt General Devraj Anbu, also warned Pakistan that India could again cross the LoC, if it does not control terror activities.
While India recollected the success of the operation, Pakistan continued in its denial mode, rejecting Indian claims. This was expected. As General Hooda had stated, the main worry after the operation was retaliation from Pakistan, but its Army denying that the strike took place laid those fears to rest.
Pakistan had limited choices, as to admit was to accept failure and demoralise even the cannon fodder Jihadis, while lowering the prestige and standing of the Army. Denial was logical as the Army controls the nation and any setback would damage in reputation.
No media house could dare to go against the deep state. Further, Indian opposition politicians, who questioned the strike, gave support to the Pakistan establishment in denying it.
A surgical strike is a difficult operation, entailing in-depth planning, catering for multiple contingencies, keeping in place alternatives including a rescue strike in case a part of the force gets stuck.
Secrecy, need-to-know sharing of information and employing multiple launch and re-entry points have to be taken care of. A failure in any form could spell disaster for the nation. Hence, such operations are always tension-packed for those who had issued the go-ahead, till they are completed. The strike’s success indicates that all these factors were catered for, the soldiers motivated, trained and well-led.
While India decorated those who participated in the strike and released a book on Indian Army heroes with a chapter specifically covering the operation, mothers in Pakistan, whose sons were in the terrorist camps that were eliminated, would never know what happened to them.
They were removed and buried under the directions of the Army, and hence will remain forgotten, in unmarked graves, for eternity. For the Pakistan deep state, they were in any case expendable.
While the Indian Army’s morale got a boost and the confidence of its troops increased manifold, Pakistan troops, aware of the strike, will always remain affected, expecting a repeat anytime. Its military hierarchy and political leadership are aware of the realities and hence wary of Indian retaliation.
Possibly after Pathankot, India had conveyed a quiet message to Pakistan that there should be no more attacks or India would be compelled to respond. Pakistan ignored the warning, Uri occurred. The government realised that if it did not act, indicating a change in strategy to offensive actions, Pakistan’s behaviour would remain unchanged.
For a long time after the strike was launched, there was no major attack. The message had been understood and India’s offensive policy displayed. There are many options other than a physical strike that India can adopt in case it needs to hit across once again. Any action by India cannot be logically termed illegal, as India claims the complete Jammu and Kashmir, with Pakistan continuing as forced occupiers of PoK.
While a strategic shift in India’s military policy was conveyed, has anything changed on ground after the surgical strike, or have things moved further downhill? Initially, the Pak Army behaved, but with the passage of time, the LoC has reverted to its earlier active status.
The high morale of the Indian Army and its recent successes as it eliminates terrorists is changing the realities in Kashmir, while conveying to Pakistan a clear message that we reserve the right to strike where we want to, and when.
A fear of a similar strike always exists within the Pak military establishment, compelling them to move terror launch pads deeper into their territory and closer to Army camps. It has also resulted in increased level of alertness of their troops.
The LoC is and will always remain active, irrespective of agreements and local-level talks. Any side can escalate or commence firing, while blaming the other. There is no control mechanism.
While India has no desire to activate the LoC, Pakistan needs to, in order to support infiltration attempts, and it does. The only time that the LoC witnesses peace is when Indian retaliation makes disturbance costly for Pakistan, in terms of casualties and damage to posts.
With diplomatic relations between the two nations moving downhill, US pressure building and the recent UN General Assembly debate indicating animosity of the subcontinent against Pakistan, it may be compelled to act.
While the polity seeks to obliterate terror groups, the deep state has other plans. The rise of the TTP, the Pakistan Taliban, was a fall-out of the attack on the Lal Masjid in 2007, resulting in over a hundred casualties. A similar act against anti-India terror groups could compel them to turn inwards, adding to Pakistan’s woes.
Thus come the comments by their foreign minister, Khwaja Asif, that they are aware of the fact that terror groups are a liability, but do not possess the assets to remove them.
While Pakistan may have denied the strike, those in power are aware, compelling them to remain wary of Indian military intentions, that they have limited options. They cannot openly reign in terror groups without placing their own people in jeopardy, nor can they shut their terror factories, which possibly are a major source of employment for those radicalised since childhood.
Hence, while we would continue to threaten Pakistan against major strikes, we cannot stop terrorists from attempting to enter the valley and ferment violence. Since both nations seek to establish moral ascendency along the LoC, it would continue to remain active, unless India makes the cost of escalation heavy to Pakistan.