Sep 30, 2019, 02.45 PM
Three years ago, when suicide terrorists attacked an Army camp at Uri, close to the LoC, they killed 19 soldiers but kindled a flame that spread like a fire. There were terrorist attacks earlier with a higher body count. There were suicide squads that had wreaked havoc before. But somehow this time, it was different. Several high-profile incidents had taken place that year. Suicide attack at Pathankot Air Base in January, biggest hostage situation in six storeyed EDI Building in Pampore in February, Kashmir Valley on the boil after terrorist leader Burhan Wani’s elimination in July. Right timing an audacious military plan backed by bold leadership that not only took ownership, but also converged other instruments of power to multiply the pressure on Pakistan.
Swift retaliation at terrorist launch pads across the line of control (LoC) followed with a stated intent served a twofold purpose. One, India had found space below the nuclear threshold, which we colloquially hear as being said, ‘…called their nuclear bluff’. The second and more importantly, we had now established our stance of dissuasion. For over three decades Pakistan has been waging a proxy war and pushing in terrorists into J&K across the LoC, inter alia. Our response has been largely defensive and restricted to the confines of the LoC. By following the concept of ‘hot pursuit’ we’ve taken the battle to the enemy’s territory, as we would say in military parlance. The doctrine of hot pursuit owes its origin to the law of the seas, at a time when smuggling and piracy were rampant, this customary doctrine emerged to empower a coastal state to pursue on to the high seas a vessel that had violated its laws within its waters.
Over the years, some countries have expanded the doctrine of hot pursuit on land, to justify the breaches of territorial sovereignty of foreign states as part of the ongoing pursuit of offenders. It started in 1986 when South Africa sought to justify its incursions into neighbouring African states against rebels. More recently, it has been employed by the United States regarding Taliban militants crossing into Pakistan or by Turkey regarding its attacks on Kurdistan Workers Party bases in Northern Iraq, also by Colombia regarding its raid on a Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia camp in Ecuador in 2008.
Two years later when a similar high-profile suicide attack at Pulwama caused a larger number of casualties, the whole country expected another bold ‘surgical strike’, as the September retaliation at terrorist launch pads in POK had come to be known. Precise airstrikes were launched within 12 days, striking at the roots of terror far deep inside Pakistan. And like before, we announced to the world and to Pakistan, our intent and purpose. In both cases, India arguably found heartening international support against terrorist endeavours. The world has little patience for terrorism or its sponsors. India had firmly shed the soft-state tag.
Two other unconnected incidents have helped India cement it’s resolve and gain more confidence in initiating strong steps in support of bold decisions taken in the national interest, a veritable departure from the past practices notwithstanding. First, it was our operations against the Northeast insurgents camps in Myanmar, and second, was our standing up to China resolutely to defend the interest of Bhutan in Dolam Plateau in 2017. Is this the new normal? Has India announced a paradigm shift? Have we redrawn our red lines? And statedly so? These strong responses may seem like a one-off raid or strike, but a great deal of preparation and planning goes into it. Planning and execution of the operation itself is not the only facet. Planning and preparation for the possible enemy retaliation and being ready for all scenarios is the larger part. This includes diplomatic fallout as well. Mobilisation of international opinion against terrorism has to be balanced with other elements of state policy as well. Economic or commercial linkages were also leveraged.
India has taken a bold stand. Why must we continue to adopt such a strong response posture? Let us take a look at the emerging situation in Afghanistan. If USA pulls out soon, owing to its domestic compulsions, we may witness a situation like the nineties, with Pakistan in control (or not) of jihadis of different hues. And a there would natural inclination on their part to push them across the LoC, lest they destabilise their territory. It will also serve their agenda of reinvigorating proxy war in Kashmir. While we must prepare ourselves against this scenario, we must also take heart from the fact that India’s preparedness on the line of control today is far better than it was three decades ago. Our troop deployment, as well as weapon & equipment profile, is much more robust now and there is an LC fence in place. However, our biggest card should be this new, bold response posture of taking the battle to enemy territory, if required. Therefore it is in India’s interest that this new dissuasive stand that we have started adopting must continue, the mode and modalities of dissuasion can change, must change actually.