Of Balakot and body counts

Last Updated: Tue, Mar 12, 2019 11:34 hrs

A lot has been discussed about the Surgical Strike 2.0 when Indian Air Force attacked Jaish-e-Mohammed camps in Balakot, Muzaffarabad and Chakoti. The entire nation came together as one voice, supporting the IAF and lauding the bravery of the fighter pilots. Even the myriad opposition politicians including the self-confessed anarchists who always fault everything that the Central Government does, acknowledged the success of the Surgical Strike 2.0. It seemed that we Indians and more specifically, our leaders had finally become mature enough to realise that while we may have our differences, we are ultimately one nation and must stand united in front of a common enemy.

But this new-found unity was short lived. For no sooner had the euphoria over the strike got over, did the dissenting voices start. There are questions being raised about exactly how many terrorists were killed, the need for photographic evidence and whether the bombs fell on training camps or barren mountains or a forest. What could be more ridiculous than this inane discussion?

Pakistan questioning the success of the strike is understandable. After all, no nation will want to admit that enemy fighter planes crossed over in its airspace, demolished militant camps and returned home safe. It makes a mockery of their Armed Forces’ claim of being a potent military power. So obviously Pakistan will try to minimize the impact of these strikes. In fact, when the Pakistani politicians discredit the strikes, they are being true loyalists to their country – by attempting to salvage its tattered reputation.

In the same way, the Indian politicians discrediting the impact of the strike are being ‘true loyalists to Pakistan’. They are helping an enemy nation that has sworn to bleed India by a thousand cuts. Let us remember that ‘bleed India by a thousand cuts’ is not a melodramatic term. It is the approved military doctrine of Pakistan against India, a doctrine that wages a long-term covert war by using insurgents and terrorists at multiple locations. Every time, someone in India raises questions about the destruction caused by the Surgical Strike 2.0, it plays into the hands of Pakistan.

Questioning the government on ideological grounds is necessary in a democracy and is the sign of a responsible opposition. But irrespective of ideological differences, all parties and politicians should have one cause in common, viz. the betterment of the nation. However, the current discourse appears to stem more from the fear of ruling dispensation getting political mileage from the offensive action than from any ideological differences.

The Surgical Strike 2.0 was a game-changer in the India-Pakistan relationship. The number of terrorists killed, and buildings destroyed is not the question here. As geostrategist and author Brahma Chellaney tweeted on March 5, 'That India penetrated Pakistani air defences and bombed a far-off target with impunity sent a chilling message to Pakistan's generals about vulnerability. Extent of damage or death toll is immaterial.'

Being the hub of terror factories, Pakistan will keep producing more terrorists. We kill 300 terrorists, there will be 3000 more ready to take their place – given the indoctrination and the lucrative business of terrorism. Similarly, destruction of a few barracks or facilities mean little in such a context.

The true impact of the Surgical Strike 2.0 is far more than the physical destruction it caused. The Surgical Strike 2.0 was meant to deliver a few, unequivocal messages to Pakistan and the world at large. The most important message that the strike has conveyed is that India is no longer a soft state – a state that is an easy target for terrorism yet will never retaliate. Even the ongoing debates in Pakistan acknowledge this change. Pakistan expected that like always, India would complain to the UN and USA, issue press statements and possibly curtail trade for a while. India was never expected to react in this aggressive manner.

The Strike also conveyed that India is now prepared to escalate the hostilities and make the enemy state face the consequences. If attacked, India can and will retaliate. Every time Pakistan inflicted damage on India, the world cautioned both the countries to de-escalate hostilities since they are nuclear powers. While India never brought the n-word into the equation, Pakistan routinely did so. India has now called off their nuclear bluff. By doing so, it has made it impossible for Pakistan to use the n-word to threaten India or scare the world into cautioning India. 

India has also proven that it has the capability to penetrate deep into Pakistan and inflict punitive damage. Balakot is estimated to be about 50 km from the LoC and it is no mean feat that IAF could reach there without PAF being able to stop them in time. It is the first time since 1971 that IAF crossed the LoC and having breached this self-imposed constraint once, we can do it again (if provoked and/or in self-defence). Now with decisive central leadership, the military might of Indians is known to all.

Lastly, India has demonstrated in clear terms to the world that we reserve the right to use our military might in a pre-emptive strike to defend our country and its citizens. This is like the doctrine of pre-emption that was published in USA where the document affirms that the Unites States will in future employ pre?emptive attacks unilaterally, if necessary. The United States, the document unambiguously states, “will not hesitate to act alone, if necessary, to exercise our right of self defense by acting pre?emptively against such terrorists, to prevent them from doing harm against our people and our country” (U.S. National Security Agency 2002, 1, 13, 15).

The British Strategic Defense Review embraced pre-emption when it argued that “it is better, where possible, to engage an enemy at longer range, before they get an opportunity to mount an assault on the UK” (Dockrill 2003, 1?19; IISS 2002Meyer 2005, 223; Roberts 2005, 119). Likewise the European Union has admitted that “threats such as terrorism and weapons of mass destruction may require action even before crises arise” (Gordon and Shapiro 2004, 217). Several other countries like Japan and Australia subscribe to similar views.

The Surgical Strike 2.0 has received unanimous legitimacy from across the world. International legitimacy is a function of a country being a rightful member of an international society and rightful conduct of the member. India has conducted itself well on both these counts and the same is evident by the wide-spread support that the country received in the recent days. Even the closest allies of Pakistan have not faulted India for its air strikes.

It is indeed shameful that our leaders are choosing to ask juvenile questions about the extent of damage caused in a desperate bid to discredit the government. At a time when the country should be feeling proud of its new-found confidence and capability, it is dithering over silly numbers and illogical discussions, without even realising the true strategic impact of the Surgical Strike 2.0.

Aditi Kumaria Hingu is a marketing graduate from IIM Calcutta. Currently she works in the corporate sector. She comes from an army background.

Note: The views expressed in the article are of the author's and not of Sify.com.

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