Beware the Ides of March
It isn’t over until it is over
As I write this on the first day of March 2019, there is media generated euphoria, pushed by both the BJP and its ideologue, about the aerial attack on the terrorist facility at Balakot; the Pakistani army and Air Force launching fire assaults on military targets on the Line of Control (LoC); the capture and later release of our pilot Wing Commander Abhinandan who had to eject in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (POK); and the re-emergence of Friends-of-Pakistan in our country, who naively feel that Pakistan has now abandoned the terror option. How wrong can the latter be?
At this point of time, we should rejoice in the major strategic change that has taken place in our political leadership in dealing with terror emanating from Pakistan. Nothing else! We need to continue to be wary of Pakistan’s intentions that have been ingrained since 1947 and further heightened post their complete defeat at the hands of the armed forces of India in 1971.
Hence, the implicit warning in the title of this piece!
The latter half of February 2019 has been heaven sent for the media in general and the electronic media in particular. Sensational events kept taking place, commencing with the dastardly Pulwama terror attack by a suicide bomber of Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM). This event, which resulted in a large number of casualties of CRPF personnel, had shocked the entire nation and retribution was demanded across the board. The social media lead these demands and the political leadership fed it by a spate of statements. Other fallouts were threats made ad infinitum; dramatic rise in the TRP’s of the news channels; and for the politicians heavily involved in electioneering for the central elections due within the next two months, it was a pause and an orientation of their stances. RSS has publicly announced that the Pulwama massacre and its fallout are their primary focus for the coming elections!
The government of India, keeping in view the heightened sentiments of the populace, and central elections due soon, had to act strongly and decisively. Since we have only one instrument that acts strongly and decisively, viz, the Indian Military, it was the obvious choice for initiating action. Others waited in the wings for taking credit when it appeared that positive results had been achieved. This has now started!
The Indian Air Force (IAF) that was chosen for the action has delivered with panache. They need to be congratulated for both their plan and for its successful implementation. That was not the end of the story, for the Pakistani leadership reacted through massive fire assaults by both its army and air force across the LoC in J&K, as was expected. These were successfully foiled by the Indian Military. Some casualties were inevitable, Both sides lost a fighter aircraft each and one of our pilots was taken prisoner after his aircraft was shot down and he had to eject.
There seemed to be round the clock confabulations by various individuals, committees and advisors, both within the government and among the opposition parties.
Prime Minister Modi, as is his wont, lost no opportunity in slipping in political pronouncements to boost the fortunes of his party in the forthcoming political battle!
While the tamashas on our TV channels will continue and reports will get more slanted in favour of one or the other party depending on who the channel is backing, let us reflect on what major lessons have emerged from the momentous events of the second fortnight of last month.
Political Will by the leadership needs to be commended. The Indian Military is always ready to act in the defence of the nation but in the past, despite their readiness, in many instances it kept waiting for the green signal from the political leadership, which failed to come. In the present case, the forces were told to come up with options and once they presented them, political decisions were taken and the go-ahead was given. Yet, in this instance too, in a few meetings of the CCS, the Chiefs were conspicuous by their absence. They appeared to have been consulted singly in different time frames. This underscores the dire need for bringing the military hierarchy in the policy formulation loop and immediate appointment of a CDS to give single point military advice to the CCS.
Security-related developments of the last fortnight are only the opening gambit, which has been successfully played. Pakistan has been unequivocally warned that terror acts will no longer be tolerated and unlike the past, we will not hesitate in retaliating against every terrorist act. For a country that was widely seen as being perpetually in a defensive mode, despite having a highly professional and large military machine, it is clear that all earlier inhibitions have now been set to rest.
The developments have also highlighted the dire need for allocating sufficient funds in the defence budget for rapid modernizing so that the deterrence value of the military gets upgraded, which would make our adversaries think many times before initiating any conventional or terrorist act against us. It is unfortunate that for the last three decades every government in power has taken little or no action in modernizing the armed forces and the record of the present government is perhaps the worst.
World over it is accepted that for a country to progress and become powerful, both economy and military must progress together. However, in our country, since electoral issues dominate, every government allocates large funds for populist projects at the expense of the modernization of the military. This results in the reduction of the deterrence value, which emboldens our adversaries.
Substantive issues of events of the last four days that need reiteration are that although we had initiated military action only against terrorist targets and clarified after the action that our aim was to inflict severe pain on the initiators of terror against us, Pakistan responded by attacking our military targets for two reasons.
Firstly, there were no terrorist targets in India and secondly saving face and satisfying domestic clamour demanded action.
Those who think that the return of Wing Commander Abhinandan is the end of the terrorism are obviously naïve. His return was neither a goodwill gesture nor an overture for peace. This is substantiated by the Pakistani Army continuing its fire assaults on the LoC and the operation to neutralize terrorists underway at Kupwara on 01 March, in which we have lost two jawans and three constables of the CRPF. Till the Pakistan Government abandons all terrorist groups as a matter of state policy; dismantles the entire terror structure; and arrests leaders of Terrorist groups, nothing has changed and our desired end state has not been met.
Pakistan is now completely isolated internationally. It needs to introspect and abandon the terror approach. It is only then that he should approach India and talk peace. India must remain firm in its stance of no talks unless strong and verifiable actions are taken against the terrorist groups targeting India, in J&K and in the hinterland.
(Lt General Vijay Oberoi is a former Vice Chief of Army Staff)
(The views expressed here are personal to the writer)