If Modi Govt Thinks It Has Credibility, Why Release Surgical Strikes Video, Asks Arun Shourie

The former Union minister talks to The Wire about the Centre's 'event-driven' outlook, the situation in Kashmir and more.

Gaurav Vivek Bhatnagar: Hello. Today we have with us former Union minister and senior journalist Mr Arun Shourie, who was in the news recently for his comment that the strike that India carried out against Pakistan last year was ‘farzical’. A lot of people have criticised him, but we would like to know from Mr Shourie what he actually thinks about it.

Welcome to The Wire, sir.

Sir, during the launch of Mr Saifuddin Soz’s book on Kashmir, you were quoted as saying the ‘surgical strike’ which the Indian Army carried out last year in Pakistan was ‘farzical’. What exactly did you mean by that, because the statement has come under severe criticism from a lot of quarters.

Arun Shourie: You know, I think people twist words. I have said it at that time, many times in between and am saying it again now – it’s not that the strike did not take place. But to use a strike which take place sometimes, occasionally – and I know from my personal experience that it took place during Atalji’s (Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s) time, so when Mr Jaswant Singh and George Fernandes were the ministers – you should not use it for propaganda purpose, as was being done. Because then you are making out of a necessary instrument, a farce. And that is what make it a farzical strike, not that strike did not take place or that the strike is not necessary or that the strike was not carried out efficiently – nothing like that. But when you make it a propaganda device…

A good example you will recall, in Bhutan if we go against ULFA, in a strike, you would say it was done by the Bhutanese Army. But obviously it was done by the cooperation of both armies – we don’t talk about it. Similarly, there was a strike in Myanmar. It was almost certainly done with the tacit understanding of the Myanmar Army, that you please look the other way, we will deal with these fellows. But when we started proclaiming ‘Oh we have done a strike, strike, strike’, naturally the Myanmar government has to say that nothing like this happened.

The same way here – yes they have done something diabolic and evil in Pathankot and Uri. So then you must send a signal to the Pakistan security establishment and that is what was done. But when you start proclaiming that that this evidence that ‘Humne unka muh tod jawab de diya, unki kamar tod di‘, naturally you are compelling him to show that he also has a 56-inch chest.

Second thing that I had said at that time also and I have repeated again, a strike like this does not deal with the main problem, let us say in this case of infiltration. For that you should secure our bases, you should secure our border. And you see what the vice chief has said in his testimony to the defence committee of parliament, headed by none other than General (B.C.) Khanduri of the BJP himself. What did they say? The vice chief said that our bases are being attacked, our cantonments are being attacked in Pathankot and Uri, and please give us the money. The Budget showed that there is provision of approximately Rs 17,400 crore, but he told the committee that actually speaking, though they say this in the Budget, but not one rupee has been given. There is not a provision of one rupee in that. The committee headed by General Khanduri then says that here ‘Hearing the vice chief’s testimony, we are aghast’. So that is what you should have done, protecting our bases, not tom-toming a strike.

GVB: You made a mention of how during Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s regime also our forces had gone inside Pakistan and carried out a similar operation. How is that different from this one?

AS: I would not like to talk about it because the army does not talk about those things, the government did not talk about it, the defence ministers dis not talk about it. Because what is the need? You want to send a signal to the other army, you have given it. Finished. But when you pervert it, the you are using the army.

GVB: There is some mention that during that operation we had brought some mementos…

AS: Yes, but I would not like to say anything about it. But the army knows what it did.

Montage of images from the video footage of the September 2016 surgical strikes by the Indian Army inside Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. Credit: RSTV

GVB: Likewise in 2015, following the killing of 18 of our soldiers in Manipur, when the Indian Army had gone inside Myanmar and carried out an operation in which a large number of NSCN(IM) group militants were killed, so at that point of time Myanmar was compelled to say that ‘No, the operation never took place’.

AS: Precisely, because we started tom-toming it. Supposing we had kept quiet. Now you have killed the culprits and the other side knows, you have given a signal to the rebels you will not stand nonsense – that is the purpose. But you want to use this for propaganda…

GVB: So the problem lies in trying to gain political capital out of it.

AS: Yes. These are necessary instruments. Quietly, every intelligence agency does these things, every armed force does these things, we have been doing them.

GVB: During the book launch, you made a mention of how there is no improvement on the ground situation and how sooner or later people would realise that the Kashmir unrest would affect the entire nation. So what exactly did you mean by that?

AS: You see, there are two-three things, if you want to go into this.

One is, that if you will look at the body counts from the 1990s, when 3,000 or 4,000 people were being killed, and now 130-150 people are being killed in a year. It’s naturally very different. But that has been different from a very long time.

Second, in this, the maximum number of people who are killed are militants, then our security personnel and then civilians. And many of the civilians are actually being killed on the border by cross-border firing. So these are the good things.

The difficult things are, I mean where the situation has become much worse, is first that most of the militants who are now wielding the gun not from across Pakistan, but they are our own people. This is terrible.

Second is that a cycle has started. Say a person is killed – precisely because he is a local boy, at his funeral, a large number of civilians turn out, shouting slogans, pelting stones, there is anger. Then, two or three persons in the procession will then get so agitated, they will say ‘I am getting out of this and I am joining the militants’. So this becomes a Gaza-like self-feeding cycle. This is very bad.

The third point, which was made to me by a very great expert on our national security, he said that now, leaders of political parties as well as leaders of the Hurriyat have lost legitimacy. And therefore we are even further away from starting a political process than we were earlier on. So that is a bad thing. So these are the real developments in Kashmir which are troublesome.

Policemen detain a Kashmiri student during a protest in Srinagar on April 24, 2017. Credit: Reuters/Danish Ismail

Policemen detain a Kashmiri student during a protest in Srinagar on April 24, 2017. Credit: Reuters/Danish Ismail

GVB: Following the collapse of the coalition government over there, there are indications that the forces might adopt a more aggressive stance. You were quoted as saying that it would not be wise to use ‘foolish force’.

AS: No no no. Actually contrary. I said that the first thing is to realise is, anybody who wields a gun will have to be dealt with by a gun. And that does not mean using minimum force as everyone says, you have to use overwhelming force. But you must not use force foolishly. And I gave an example, that supposing you can use a water cannon and you use tear gas, and where you can use tear gas, you use pellets which blinds youngsters. Then that is not a minimum force or maximum force, it is the foolish use of force.

GVB: Excessive force, basically.

AS: It’s not excessive force. It’s the foolish use of force. Instead of doing this, you are doing something foolish. That was the point.

GVB: You also said that the Modi government is basically election-oriented and it does not have policies, it only believes in events and campaigns.

AS: Two things. Firstly, it is event-driven – one is that it believes only in events, and you can see Mr Modi doing events all these all the time. But the other is that it’s so-called ‘policy’ – it has no policy, on Pakistan, on China, on Nepal, on Sri Lanka, on Maldives, certainly not on Kashmir, not on nanks. So it has no policy, it is event-driven.

If something happens like Nirav Modi, they say we will do this, that and the other on banking. Similarly, in the case of Kashmir, you said okay, I have a ceasefire. Now obviously, when you declare a ceasefire, you have something long-term in mind. For instance, I remember Mr Advani’s phrase at the time when the NDA government had announced a ceasefire. He said, ‘We must get people accustomed to life in peace. What a peaceful life, is so that they will then not support the resurrection of violence.’ It was a very interesting remark.

Now here you declare a ceasefire. Two people are killed, you call off this cease fire and say ‘See, now see I am tiger.’ Then you are event-driven and that means that what you will do is in the hands of the other fellow. If he kills two persons, he knows you will finish the ceasefire. That was the point.

GVB: So finally considering that probably the remarks you made will have not been taken in the right spirit, how do you view this release of the latest video from the army on the surgical strikes?

AS: Well I can’t understand how anybody would doubt that there was a strike, so if they are releasing a video now, that does not prove that there was a strike. There was a strike of course, everybody, knows but it shows you something about the government’s own assessment of its own lack of credibility, that nobody believes us therefore we need to take out a video. What a sorry state of affairs – first you exaggerate a thing, then you see oho nobody believes me, and then you are drilling it in with ‘video, video, video’. Next they will bring some certificates from the Pakistan Army saying ‘Yes yes, there was a strike.’ That just shows their own assessment that they have no credibility.

GVB: Thank you so much for joining us at The Wire.

AS: Thank you.

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