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October 8, 2018

Another surgical strike?


October 8, 2018

It was Plato who said, ‘Wise men speak because they have something to say; fools because they have to say something’. General Bipin Rawat, India’s chief of army staff, recently threatened to launch ‘another’ surgical strike against Pakistan.

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Rawat was obviously referring to an earlier farce across the LoC in Kashmir in 2016 as the first. At the time, the Indian media had reported the death of 38 Kashmiri freedom fighters. Slaying 38 highly-motivated militants in a night-time raid in extremely hostile environments, across one of the most heavily militarised borders in the world, is no ordinary feat and any army would have gone to town chest thumping in glory. But not the Indian army, which stubbornly shied away from showing any evidence – not even to its own parliament where the opposition noisily clamoured for it for days.

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Elaborating on that so-called surgical strike, Prime Minister Modi had stated that Indian troops had fully accomplished the assigned mission and returned before first light after inflicting heavy causalities. It then set upon informing Pakistan before breaking the news to the media which they were able to do with great difficulty around noon, as no one from Pakistan would take their call, even though hotlines between the DGMOs of the two countries have been in place for years. The insinuation here is that Pakistan had ample time to pick up its dead, which is why the Indian army could not show any evidence. This is so farfetched that it doesn’t deserve any serious comment.

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Pakistan, on the other hand, ferried international journalists to the LoC and offered them to indicate any sector where they wanted to visit. The United Nations Military Observer Group in Pakistan (UNMOGIP) also didn’t support the Indian army’s claim. In contrast, in 2015, when the Indian army crossed the Indo-Myanmar border and killed a number of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland-Khaplang (NSCN-K) militants, India was quick to show the raid details to the media. In an attempt to fool the world, it refused to call the action a ‘surgical strike’. India and Myanmar have a treaty where people from each country can trade within 16 kilometres of its international border but carrying out a military operation in that trade zone is obviously quite a different matter.

India is clearly loose with the term ‘surgical strike’ and employs it for self-serving purposes. There has been much talk in Indian military circles about punitive military action against Pakistan in a compressed timeframe, under what the India generals call ‘nuclear over-hang’. The previous claim against Pakistan was clearly a false pretention that the Indian army can breech the LoC and get away with it. Indian army talks of inflicting pain on Pakistan but so far the only pain it has been able to inflict is on innocent population in the border region, which is routinely shelled in a cowardly manner.

Social media had a field day after General Bipin Rawat’s irresponsible statement. But his threat should not be taken lightly. Not because the Indian army can actually do what it boasts, without paying a very price, but for the sheer naivete of the Indian High Command’s mindset, who could push the entire region on an irreversible path of destruction. relations between India and Pakistan are so highly charged that there isn’t space for even a kabaddi-style ‘touch the opponent and run back fast’ type of action, that can be labelled surgical.

It all began when India reneged on its consent to a meeting of the foreign ministers of the two countries. Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Muhammad Qureshi was visibly happy at India’s acceptance of Prime Minister Imran Khan’s proposal for a meeting on the sidelines of the UNGA session in New York. What exactly his expectations were from a meeting of this nature is hard to figure out. Not long ago, just when our media was flashing ‘photographs of Hillary Clinton and Shah Mohammad Qureshi, the decades-long relationship between the US and Pakistan was unravelling like a house of cards. In 1962, there had been six rounds of focused talks on Kashmir between his much brighter predecessor, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and India’s Sardar Swaran Singh, and nothing came out of those negotiations. That was before our destructive wars, when there was some semblance of mutual trust between the two countries.

The excuses put forth by India for cancellation of talks in New York are eyewash. The BSF soldier incident had already taken place when the meeting proposal was accepted by India and the teeny-tiny postage stamp which rattled India had been in circulation well before the swearing in of Imran Khan as prime minister. The language used by India’s Ministry of External Affairs against Pakistan was strong but Imran Khan’s response about ‘small people in high positions having no vision’ could have been given a miss since his own ‘vision’ ( if any) is far from clear to most Pakistanis. Likewise, Sheikh Rashid’s loose comments about use of nuclear weapons were irresponsible. No one in his sane mind can think of destroying civilisations just because one side has gone bonkers over the LoC.

Unfortunately, our leaders, both politicians and military, haven’t responded appropriately to Indian obstinacy. For years, elected governments shied away from mentioning the Kashmir dispute at the annual UNGA sessions. Only this year, Maleeha Lodhi, Pakistan’s representative to UN, gave a perfect rejoinder to the Indian foreign minister’s speech. That is what we should have been saying at the UN, year after year, because the Kashmir dispute is recognised by the world body.

Nawaz Sharif missed the opportunity to improve relations with India. President General Pervez Musharraf concocted the ‘out-of-box’ solution for Kashmir without realising that the only ‘box’ from which a lasting solution of this historical dispute can emerge is the universally acknowledged aspirations of people of Jammu and Kashmir, as enshrined in the UN charter. A slight digression: Pervez Musharraf might do well to let others handle the silly Indian innuendoes and avoid locking horns with second and third-string Indian TV anchors who probably relish his angry and now well-known responses under provocation. It doesn’t behove the dignity of the high offices that he held in the past.

COAS General Qamar Javed Bajwa had unilaterally, and without anything in return, expressed readiness to open the Kartarpur border for Sikh pilgrims on the 550th birth anniversary of Sri Guru Nanak, which India had been asking for many years. This is not to suggest restrictions on movement of people but there should at least be the slightest acknowledgment from the other side.

It is unfortunate but it should be clear to us by now that India doesn’t want to engage with Pakistan in any serious negotiations, and will keep beating the ‘terrorism’ drum as an excuse. It probably and mistakenly thinks that it can put down the protests in Kashmir by violent force. The 1972 Simla Agreement has been used by India to buy time. It perhaps also reckons that its better economic growth will eventually further widen the military capability gap between India and Pakistan to its advantage. We must keep our gunpowder dry – just in case the likes of General Bipin Rawat lose their marbles. More importantly, we need to address our internal contradictions and give increased moral and diplomatic support to Kashmiri freedom fighters.

The writer is a retired viceadmiral.

Email: [email protected]

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