By Lt Gen Arvinder Singh Lamba*
India’s response by a surgical counter-strike by Special Forces on launch pads against terrorists near the Line of Control (LoC) to infiltrate inside Indian Territory was the beginning of a natural but formidable exhibition of the changing political will and military precision assaults. The resonance of near global synergy and opinion against both – terror and a terror sponsor state – that uses its military machine to endanger peace and stability, should have warned Pakistan of possible responses.
India’s strong responses with complete ownership at the highest level signal the first ever reflection of rare strategic convergence between political leadership, the home ministry, the National Security Advisor, and the military.
For Pakistan, the message was one of India’s zero tolerance towards terror emanating from home grown groups in Pakistan, as well as terror groups or elements sponsored by Pakistan and operating within India.
In keeping with its strategy of denial and disowning terrorist actions from Mumbai to Uri, Pakistan’s military has dismissed the strike as a usual cease fire violation. The chorus of denial this time came from the highest diplomatic levels as office of the high commissioner of Pakistan in India to the political and the military hierarchy in Pakistan.
Pakistan’s response is unmistakeable despite this denial. Visits of journalists to forward locations to negate the truth of Indian surgical strike have been followed up by intensified firing on border villages inflicting heavier casualties in the rice belt of RS Pura, sensitive Macchal and Gurez sectors, terror strikes in Afghanistan and Balochistan, and mutilations of Indian soldiers. Recent media reports of four posts in Keran sector routed by India’s fire assaults and increased casualties of Pakistan’s soldiers reflect the hardening responses.
First, it is imperative to identify the reasons impelling Pakistan’s denial. Foremost, the strike challenged the Pakistan Army’s rhetoric of being the saviours and guardians of the country, especially when viewed in India’s historically reactive and overcautious perspective; caused a paralysis, disabling Pakistan Army’s response to this strike, and more grievously, preventing Pakistan’s response to any further strikes by Indian military.
Second, the military’s inability to explain significant casualties to their trained and nurtured terrorists who expect due protection from the military during operations and suicide missions, added a sense of betrayal to their sacrifices.
Finally, for an event that has drawn enormous international support for India in its war on terror, what will the Pakistani military have to explain to the nation, and its political leadership, and where does the government go from here? The civilian government, forced to toe the military line, risks its own credibility.
The bigger spin off is one of paralysis in the political leadership and the chasm in civil-military relations intensifying with an environment of resentment against Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s money laundering in the Panama Papers leaks and other businesses; clampdown on media; and the military’s pressures for escalating the situation that may compel the government to box this big lie.
While Pakistan’s military may be working to redress the ramifications, three major outcomes are likely:
One, obfuscation of the event will deny the government any grounds for justifying appropriate response or reaction, and such continued inaction will substantiate the perceived paralysis of the leadership and the policy makers.
Two, for Pakistan, their doctrine of bleeding India by a thousand cuts has been deeply frustrated, adding to uncertainty regarding the frontline role and space in future operations of jihadis and other terrorists.
Finally, the change of Pakistan’s Chief of Army Staff (COAS) will draw greater focus in light of accentuated and irrational responses. Whether or not incumbent COAS Gen Raheel Sharif gets an extension, the level of escalation across the LoC and the International Border (IB) may well threaten the civilian government’s aspirations for stability. In fact, the escalation, with a major risk of throwing the spiral out of control, may have already begun.
For India, the increased latitude and freedom by the Ministry of Home Affairs to the Border Security Force, and the military to its tactical commanders for dealing with similar situations is a significant departure from the past that will encourage harder responses by India each time.
By irrational actions such as ceasefire violations, killings, mutilations on the border, and terror strikes in Balochistan and Afghanistan, Pakistan has more than crossed the threshold of India’s restraint.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s recent warning of retribution is a unique mark up, threatening to escalate responses to the next level with graver consequences for Pakistan’s military, as much as for Nawaz Sharif – whose political leadership is already under test. The subsequent phone call by Director General of Military Operations to his Indian counterpart raising the white flag to stop increasing casualties is in acknowledgement that responses are beginning to hurt.
In the larger perspective, the tectonic shift from strategic restraint to credible military options by Prime Minister Modi not only indicates India’s new political direction, but also emphatically debunks the traditional myth of zero operational space between unabated terror by Pakistan and a nuclear war.
For the international community, India’s dynamic political leadership and professional military have underscored their capacity and resolve to protect national interests, as well as to play a credible role in ensuring stability and security in the region.
* Lt Gen Arvinder Singh Lamba
President, IPCS, Ex-Officio Member; IPCS Governing Council; & former Vice Chief, Indian Army