Surgical strikes: Political involvement is what separates the latest operation from the others

Surgical strikes: Political involvement is what separates the latest operation from the others

PM Narendra Modi.

Away from the increasing politicisation of the recent surgical strikes that the Indian armed forces conducted across the Line of Control (LoC), one aspect that is not properly highlighted in our discourse on the subject is the fact that it was a “strategic decision” — a decision taken at the highest level of the political leadership of the country (involving the Prime Minister of India). Such strikes, as the Congress rightly points out, were carried out in the past (it claims that there were three such strikes in between 2011 and 2014). But the difference between the strikes conducted when Manmohan Singh was the prime minister and the ones conducted last fortnight is that unlike the recent ones, the past strikes were “tactical” in nature. And this is something both the former army chief General Bikram Singh, and his DGMO Lieutenant-General Vinod Bhatia, have confirmed.

Though attempts have been made in a section of the media to portray that General Bikram Singh and General Bhatia have said differently (presumably because of their differing political preferences) on the subject, any dispassionate analysis will reveal that in essence, they were talking the same language. Both of them have said that the strikes across the LoC in the past were “a routine matter” and “tactical” in nature, which the previous governments were keeping secret.

In fact, General Singh has repeated what he had said on 31 July, 2014, the day he retired. While talking to the press on his last day in office, he informed how India gave a befitting reply to Pakistan, whose Army, on 8 January,2013, had beheaded Lance Naik Hemraj and mutilated the body of Lance Naik Sudhakar Singh along the LoC in Poonch sector of J&K. “It (retaliation) has been done. Please understand that when we use force, that use is from tactical to operational to strategic levels…It has been done at the tactical level by local commanders… chiefs don’t get involved in it.”

It is worth emphasising what General Singh had said. The force is used “from tactical to operational to strategic levels”. Strategic level decisions are made by the political leadership, operational level decisions are taken by the senior military commanders in coordination with or permission from the Army Headquarters in Delhi, and tactical decisions are the preserve of the local commanders, where “chiefs don’t get involved in it.”

General Bhatia, in his interview to a TV channel, has also said the same thing. Though political twists have been given to his statement as he challenged the Congress thesis that under the UPA regime, the three surgical strikes were similar in nature to the latest strikes under the Modi-government, the former DGMO had a point when he said, “We never carried out such strikes earlier. They were not strikes, but actions carried out at very very local level. When you are firefighting, you may go across the LoC a few meters, but then you cannot call them cross border strikes.”

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