There Should be More of Surgical Strikes to Liquidate Cross-Border Terrorism

In Favour

“Our reaction to situation has the power to change the situation itself.”

This must have been the thought behind India to carry out the recent surgical strike against terror camps beyond the Line of Control (LOC). It came as a reaction not only to Uri, but also to Pampore, Pathankot and Gurdaspur and the other unaccounted number of attacks that the country had to face because of State-sponsored terrorism.

A surgical strike is a military attack which results in, was intended to result in, or is claimed to have resulted in only damage to the intended legitimate military target, and no or minimum collateral damage to surrounding structures, vehicles, buildings, or the general public infrastructure and utilities.

The modus operandi during surgical strikes is one that requires high specialty and precision. Credible intelligence and dependable sources are a key to carrying out surgical strikes. Hence, the strikes can only be carried out by special operation teams, who gather intelligence for external sources as well as work in coordination with service intelligence departments, Intelligence Bureau and R&AW hawks. All the three defence forces have their own specially trained operation teams. These teams are either air-dropped on the location or carry out air raids, without conducting ground operations. These operations are complicated and require long and meticulous planning and various levels of coordination. An effective C4ISR-command, control, communication, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance is needed from the operation command.


First of all, ethically, this makes surgical strike seem a very favourable option to put an end to cross border terrorism. The use of precision guided munitions is helpful and is effective in densely populated areas leading to very less casualties. The military target being the terrorist infrastructure rather than Pakistani military installations justifies the whole action.


Terrorism, being a global issue, surgical strikes seems to address the cause effectively, with least damage. It would prevent the possibilities of a war with other nations as the targets are terrorists and not country’s military. Also nuclear weapons won’t be required for such strikes. India has found the panacea to counter the Chinese stratagem of using nuclear weapons to deter a conventional response to attacks by highly trained Pakistanis posing as jehadi terrorists.


Secondly, frequent surgical strikes would help deter the terrorist activities. The state sponsoring such actions would be made to question on a global platform resulting in restraining of these activities. It will also create resentment amongst the citizens of such states further pressurizing the government. Thus, a political turmoil would help prevent such pursuits. The resources would be damaged by such frequent surgical strikes hampering further sponsorship. Also a clear message would be sent to other countries planning the same about India’s stand to fight back. Thus, overall deterrence of such cross border terrorists activities would be ensured.


Thirdly, on a global platform, the strikes would highlight the grave issue that India has been facing since Independence. The global recognition would help to gain support and sympathy for India which is essential to deal with this problem. Also it can cause other nations to create pressure on terrorist sponsoring states to put an end to such activities. This could be also used to isolate such states and be used to give signals to other such nations too.


Fourthly, for India there would be diplomatic gains. It would project India as a hard state in a positive manner. The silence by India and the efforts of peace talk were taken advantage of by the terrorist groups. And thus, a stern act like a surgical strike would be justified. Also surgical strikes would be taken as preemptive self defence mechanism again justifying the action. Thus, it would lead to a win-win situation for the country.


Fifthly, at the national level, such surgical strikes would help restore faith in the democratic government. It will ensure the governmental concern towards the border issue that took toll of many innocent lives. It will ensure faith in the defence system of the country, leading to more respect and acknowledgement towards the profession. The population of the border areas would acquire a sense of security helping them cope with such adversities. Also youth would be attracted towards taking up employment in such fields. Thus, a better human resource would be generated.


Sixthly, it will act as a warning signal to the insurgent activities with-in the country as well. The sponsors of such activities would also be then made to refrain from carrying out their actions. Thus, then a peace talk with such groups can actually help strike peace within the country too.


In the surgical strike of the kind executed by the Indian Army, India was in total control from which launchpads to hit how to get in and how to get out without suffering casualties.


Thus, a realization that overdependece on static defences leads to complacency and a syndrome of casualness and carelessness had allowed Pakistan to successfully breach our defences time and again. The manner in which the strike force collected local intelligence must be applied to supplement the static defences. Using dogs as terrestrial eyes and ears should be coalesced into a more effective defence, of which, sanitizing the hinterland on the other side of the fence/reconnaissance/surveillance gadgetry is an integral part.


Hence, surgical military operation (not all time but at a time and place of our choosing) must be made the norm.


An old proverb goes like—“Desperate diseases must have desperate remedies.”


Cross border terrorism is well planned and executed, and so are surgical strikes. The difference is just that one is the disease arising out of desperation and the other is the remedy desperately wishing to get things right !



The National Counter Terrorism Centre noted earlier this year that India had the second largest number of casualties from terrorism, just behind haq. The debate has always raged on as to whether Pakistan should be answered violently or diplomatically. The surgical strikes by India on Pakistan recently pleased all those who wanted to tell Pakistan that India is only perceived to be weak; it is not weak in reality. However, the consequences of surgical strikes have not been good for India. Surgical strikes have not been effective in curling terrorism either. There have already been three terrorist attacks in Kashmir within ten days of the surgical strike. The surgical strike may have ‘avenged’ Uri but by no means has it affected the pattern of terrorists attacking security forces in Kashmir. We respond with outrage only when the casualty count is high, such as in Uri. And we gloss over an attack when we lose just a soldier or two. And hence, we miss the larger picture.


The number of fidayeen suicide attacks has risen sharply in 2016, as has the casualty count of security forces. The attacks did not stop even for a week after surgical strikes. The terrorist infrastructure in Pakistan is so vast; it extends well beyond Pakistan—administered Kashmir and into south Punjab. Jaish-e-Mohammad and Lashkar-e-Taiba continue to recruit, indoctrinate and train young men.


There is a significant policy shift, the much disdained policy of strategic restraint has been abandoned in favour of a militarily assertive behaviour. However, it seems that with the surgical strikes, India is getting entrapped in Pakistan’s strategic ambush which is a temptation to the Indian political elites to initiate military action against Pakistan, which in turn, offers Islamabad a much desired strategic parity with India.


Pakistan has always managed to maintain strategic parity with India for most of its history as an independent state. That is to say, the international community has always clubbed India and Pakistan together as danageours, mullarised rivals. It is only in the last decade that India has succeeded in breaking away from this dualism and crafting a global identity as independent from Pakistan—a situation of acute discomfort for Pakistan. There seems to be an understanding within Pakistan’s military planners that a military conflict in the region, especially one where Pakistan is seen as being forced to take recourse to war, has the potential to elevate Pakistan’s strategic parity with India.


Even former Prime Minister of India, Shri Atal Behari Vajpayee, realised sooner or later that in the long run, diplomacy will build the image of India worldwide and not any violent reaction. Hence, in July, 2001, Vajpayee took a U-turn on his confrontationst policy towards Pakistan. That he chose Srinagar as the venue for this suggests a keen awareness that the people of Kashmir yearn for a settlement with Pakistan, which alone can remove the uncertainty and put an end to violent militancy.


Through his intensive campaign over the last many weeks, Narendra Modi, then BJP’s Prime Ministerial candidate, chose to stay away from the details of his foreign and security policies. And he had to clear some of the confusion generated by the few things that the BJP’s manifesto did say on these issues. In the end, Modi struck to a simple affirmation that he will uphold the essence of Vajpayee’s strategic essence.


The fact, however, is that Manmohan Singh’s foreign policy was not very different from that of Vajpayee. Whether it was India’s nuclear strategy on the Look East policy; the engagement with great powers or an emphasis on the economic integration of the subcontinent, Singh travelled on the path carved out by Vajpayee. In the heat of an election campaign, no one was expecting Modi to acknowledge the foreign policy continuity between the UPA and NDA governments.


In the face of extremely difficult regional and international circumstances that confronted him, Vajpayee successfully developed new options for India on the three most difficult diplomatic accounts. The United States, China and Pakistan. Modi walked on the footsteps of Vajpayee and Modi also called the Pakistan President on his oath taking ceremony.


Also, Pakistan is a state where defeat leads to even more militarisation and radicalisation. It is a state that is willing to bear the cost of great internal violence. Societies are weakened not just by terrorism as much as they are by overreactions. Under some conditions, it may be productive to be violent. But in the long run, diplomacy can only bring peace and stability.


Proponents of the military strategy must also be aware of the fact that the Indian armed forces are not in particularly good shape for an all out war with Pakistan. The military is short of vital equipment like artillery and air-defence systems.


After the Pathankot attack, the government took on a high-decibel diplomatic campaign to isolate and sanction Islamabad and then, it threatened Pakistan that it would expand its political support to separatists in Gilgit-Baltistan and Balochistan. The danger of army action across the border is that if it is too successful, it could trigger a nuclear war. Precision strikes are a myth and the kind of strikes that Israel and the US have launched, with vastly superior intelligence and targeting capabilities, have resulted in a large number of civilian deaths which have not had the effect of covering down the population, either in Gaza or Afghanistan.


Iraq presents another example which shows that the use of force and military action by the US could not bring peace and stability. Peace cannot be effected by its contrary war.


We need to step up the diplomatic offensive against Pakistan, and put serious pressure on countries like the US and its allies as well as institutions like IMF to act against Pakistan. UN resolution 1373 passed in the wake of 9/11 has been adopted under Chapter VII of the UN charter and India should lobby with UN members for its application to Pakistan since it obligates states “to prevent the commission of terrorist acts” as well as to “deny safe haven to those who finance, plan, support or commit terrorist acts or provide safe havens.”


The eventual goal has to be for New Delhi to bring Islamabad around to rejecting the instrument of terrorism. This is not an impossible goal as is evident in the Vajpayee and Manmohan errors. The cease-fire of 2003 and the subsequent back channel discussions led to a sharp reduction of infiltration and violence in the valley. Indeed, we also came close to working out a modus Vivendi in Jammu and Kashmir with Pakistan during this period. The surgical strikes will only worsen the situation. In retaliation, we will only hear of our jawans being martyred and civilians killed. India-Pakistan dispute is a long psychological and historical process. It cannot be resolved by military means alone. Restraint plays to India’s advantage; India’s strength and standing have increased immeasurably in the last decade or so.

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