Watch | Surgical Strikes – Tactical Success, Strategic Failure

Happymon Jacob talks to Lt. Gen. H.S. Panag on the ongoing counter-insurgency operations in J&K, the politicisation of armed forces, and the surgical strike in September 2016.



A summary transcript of the discussion in the video follows: 

Implications of ‘Gogoi tactics’ for counter-insurgency operations

India has much of counter-insurgency operational experience and there are clear-cut rules of engagement, military operation rules, Supreme Court rulings on AFSPA cases and such, which provide instructions and guidelines on acceptable operational retorts available to military forces in such cases.

Tying Farooq Dar to the jeep and holding him hostage in the so-called ‘uniquely hostile’ situation was uncalled for and should have been condemned. But given the political and emotional climate of the country, Major Leetul Gogoi who was in a disturbing precedent, was rewarded rather than being held accountable for such violations. As such situations have been quite common earlier too, the military engagement rules are clear: minimum force use for effect. Holding someone as a hostage, be it an innocent civilian, a bystander or a stone-pelter, is simply unacceptable as it is a violation of several statutes including the Geneva Convention and military rules.

Resorting to such a tactic is an ethical-legal problem as it violates human rights, Geneva Convention No. 4 which is applicable to counter-insurgency also, Article 21 of the Indian Constitution and Section 63 of the Army Act read in conjunction with Section 69.

Application of AFSPA in J&K

Now, the number of terrorists is much lower, but the force level on ground is same. The problem in Kashmir is not deployment of force per se. It is the fact that people feel alienated. Militarily, the situation is well under control, given the level of terrorism. It will further come down with judicious use of force. But a political initiative of dialogue, reconciliation and better governance will have to be ensured to avoid alienation of masses there.

Politicisation of Indian army

Serving personnel of armed forces are beginning to identify themselves with a particular ideology over a period of time, which is problematic because then national faultlines in terms of caste, religion and such are now affecting the secular nature of army and mentality of personnel. It is quite evident on social media. Armed forces are being linked to every facet of national activity, (for instance, during demonetisation). Extreme nationalism as counter to patriotism is contributing to paranoia about national integrity.

Need of the army is reform and not adulation

The army needs reforms urgently, to be owned by the state, and to get resources and funds for its effective operation. India needs a formal and proper national security strategy. It should be a top-down model prepared in consultation with the military, MEA, MHA and others. Armed forces should be respected like other arms of the government but not deified because then sensible demands for army reforms too, are considered anti-national.

Surgical strike of September 2016 and its contextual relevance

For the first time, a strike was declared and owned by the government. But trans-LC operations were conducted earlier also. In 2000, a two-km deep strike was conducted and the area is still with us. Therefore, the gains achieved were substantial. But earlier, these were kept low-key. This time, in 2016, the scale of strike was a bit bigger and was declared.

The surgical strike was done in a response to the Uri attack. Tactically, it was required to boost the morale of the army and nation as a whole. The strategic intent was to warn Pakistan and compel it to stop aiding terrorist activities. But the latter aim was not fulfilled. Pakistan initially even denied that it happened and then they continued to pump in more infiltrators. Violence went up since then. What was required strategically then was an escalation on our part but that was not done. So, at the end, no specific strategic gain accrued out of it. It just remained a well-organised successful tactical operation.

Governments may publicise and exploit the success of a surgical strike politically – it is not an unprecedented phenomenon. The strategic failure of not choosing to go up the escalatory ladder undermined it.

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