Honouring Surgical Strike Heroes Is Fine but Focus on Covert Ops
Lauding the heroes of surgical strike is fine but India should focus on covert ops in the long-term, writes SK Sood.
All the brave soldiers who participated in the “surgical strikes” in September 2016 have been deservedly awarded the Bravery Awards on Republic Day.
These strikes demonstrated our capabilities and resolve to carry out such punitive actions as reiterated by the new Army Chief. However, those can classically be termed only as cross border raid/action by the Special Forces.
Did Surgical Strike Achieve its Intended Objective?
A surgical strike as a sudden military attack, deep inside an enemy territory, is expected to result in damage to the intended target of strategic value, without any significant collateral damage. It is aimed at giving unambiguous message to the adversary about our intent and instil the fear of God – so to say – in him.
As succinctly put by Christine Fair at the recently held Raisina dialogues, the cost that such punitive action imposes on the adversary should be much more than the cost of the action itself.
Therefore, to assume that the strikes of 29 September achieved their intended aim appears far-fetched. Eliminating few terrorist shelters in the vicinity of the LoC, where they were probably huddled up before crossing over, is indeed a brilliant tactical achievement, but certainly not worthy of being termed as surgical strike pulverising terrorist nerve centres or neutralising high value assets or leaders.
Pakistan Yet to Mend its Ways
Strikes would have come as a shocking realisation for the terrorists and their mentors, but the payoffs, for us, are limited to imposing caution amongst them and forcing them to be more discreet. This would lead to delays in launching and better preparations on their part.
Amending a common phrase, we can say that “damage must not only be done but it should be seen to have been done”. However, publicised claims notwithstanding, the strikes of September 2016 have not deterred Pakistan from extending moral and logistic support to terrorists
This is evident from at least four more audacious attacks after the surgical strikes, including the latest one in the first week of January 2017 at a GREF (General Reserve Engineer Force) Camp in Akhnoor.
The adversary, in fact, has adopted an even more aggressive posture on the Line of Control. The strikes were retaliated by heavy fire assaults on our posts and BAT (Border Action Team) actions in which the Pakistanis resorted to ambushing our patrols and mutilating bodies of the Indian soldiers.
Fluctuations in Policy
Our response to such provocation has been a massive scale down from the flamboyantly declared “surgical response doctrine”. This creates a perception of a vacillating and confused policy, rather than a strong and unambiguous message which the surgical strikes intended to convey.
More important than having the capability is to have requisite will to use that ability to our strategic advantage and thereafter convince the international power players about the legitimacy of our action.
A surgical strike will have the intended effect only if carried out deep inside adversary’s territory, crippling their capabilities significantly enough, to make them ponder over the consequences of their actions.
Real Time Intelligence Needed in the Long-Term
The cross border strikes of 29 September succeeded because “troops in contact” carried these out. They had the benefit of observing deployment and operational patterns of adversary. The troops could disengage quickly and fall back to their own side of the LoC after operations.
Pinpointed intelligence about exact location and movements of target is the first requirement. Efforts required to neutralise the security apparatus available to them should also be factored in. Meticulous planning will be required for the troops to enter the enemy’s territory undetected by evading detection by satellite and radar, quick disengagement and safe return to own territory.
The task, therefore, requires painstaking planning, preparation by way of training in simulated conditions, besides mental and physical orientation of the troops for such tasks.
The task imperatively requires permanent intelligence assets to be in place for obtaining and disseminating real time information. Such capability can be developed only over a long period of time.
Be Prepared for the Reaction
Another question that needs serious attention is the likely reaction of adversary and the scenario that will unfold, consequent to such strikes, and our preparedness for the same. Carrying out spectacular strikes and then remaining on tenterhooks ourselves, is essentially counterproductive.
Given our own vulnerabilities and susceptibilities to spectacular strikes both against civilian targets and military camps by non-state actors, we have to review our options if subjected to such strikes by the adversary. We cannot afford to underestimate capabilities and intentions of adversary and need to be in readiness for all eventualities.
Covert Operations Are More Viable
Finally, we need to factor in the reaction of international players. Whether we would be able to garner support for such an action and evade any censor or adverse stricture at international forums is a perplexing question.
The international reactions will depend on the prevailing dynamics and our diplomatic maneuverability. Diplomatic offensive unleashed by India during the Kargil episode has shown that our diplomats are capable of successfully putting forth India’s perspective.
The present dilemma visible in our response to the persistent and continued proxy war by our adversary is probably driven by a very narrow range of options we have against an adroitly crafted use of non-state actors by Pakistan.
It deprives us from a frontal response against the depredations as well provides Pakistan with alibis to get away by blaming these non-state actors. In conjunction with Pakistan being an asset to the national interests of major powers, this policy has paid them off well so far.
In such a scenario, with rather fleeting options except torturously slow diplomatic efforts, India must explore alternatives. And as a potent alternative should we not consider covert operations to take out our targets?
(The writer retired from the BSF as an additional director-general. This is a personal blog and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)
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