When the Indian Army had promised that Uri will be avenged “at a time and place of our choosing”, many within the media (including yours truly), strategic circles and rival political parties had dismissed it as empty bluster. Some even offered that it was the Army version of “law will take its own course.”
The Wednesday night of 28 September, 2016, would have taught the doubters to shelve their skepticism of the Indian Army.
Details of whether it was a ground offensive or a heliborne operation are still sketchy at this point. According to some TV channels, including Times Now, the special forces of the Indian army were para-trooped across the LoC and the operation was carried out within 500 metres to three kilometres into Pakistan-occupied-Kashmir. The operation reportedly lasted for around five to six hours.
News agency Reuters — quoting Pakistan military which entirely denied that India carried out a surgical strike and claimed that it was merely heavy artillery firing from across the border — said, “exchange of fire took place in the Bhimber, Hot Spring, Kel and Lipa sectors in PoK.”
The interesting thing about the “surgical strike” was the way India has handled the entire operation 11 days into the Pakistan-sponsored Uri attacks. This indicates a careful calibration of strategy, a meticulously laid out plan with escalating steps and a high degree of synergy between the diplomatic, political and military establishment. Also, notably, even now that the operation has ended, none within the government and the army has sounded belligerent about it.
There is little doubt that this surgical operation was carried out as a retaliatory measure to the killing of 18 Indian jawans but the army was careful to couch the daring strike in the blandness of “stopping terror groups from infiltrating into India”.
At a joint news conference along with ministry of external affairs spokesperson Vikas Swarup, the army’s Director General of Military Operations Lieutenant General Ranbir Singh said: “…based on very specific and credible information we received yesterday, that some terrorist teams had positioned themselves at launch pads along the LoC with an aim to carry out infiltration and terrorist strikes in J&K and various other metros in our country,” according to a report in Indian Express.
“Significant casualties have been caused to terrorists and those trying to shield them. We don’t have a plan to further conduct such strikes. India has spoken to Pakistan,” the report said.
Significantly, Singh revealed that an attempt has been made to take Pakistan into confidence.
“I have spoken to Pakistan DGMO and shared details of the attacks with him,” he said. “It is India’s intention to maintain peace and tranquility. But we cannot allow terrorists to operate along the LoC,” he said.
“In line with Pakistan’s commitment made in 2004 to not allow terrorists to operate on its soil, we expect the Pakistan army to cooperate with us,” he further said.
By making it clear that it does not wish to conduct any more operations and by reaching out to Pakistan and even “asking for its cooperation,” India has indicated that it does not wish to escalate the issue further with a nuclear-armed nation with a very low threshold for tolerance.
This marks a new maturity in India’s handling of a sensitive issue. There is absolutely no need to engage in war-mongering or fusillading rhetoric once the surgical operation has been successfully finished with “zero casualties on Indian side”.
Whatever message India needed to convey post the Uri provocation, has been conveyed successfully to the Pakistan establishment. The strike would have carried an unmistakable memo that there is a limit to India’s patience and tolerance when it comes to repeated terrorist strikes from across the border.
We would be of course ready to react should Pakistan wish to indulge in any retaliatory strikes, as the DGMO indicated in the press conference, but the way India has been trying to tone down the rhetoric since conducting another Myanmar-like operation proves two crucial points. One, it understands the risks of dealing with a nation which is more unstable than even francium. Two, New Delhi realises its role as a responsible, aspiring south Asian power and while it reserves the right to take any action to protect its sovereignty and territorial integrity, it does not wish to start a nuclear war.
One other interesting event must be mentioned that risks going beyond the radar. Though the Indian surgical strike was calculated and well-planned, it would be foolish to assume that US was completely in the dark about it.
Interestingly, as a report in The Times of India points out, India’s national security adviser Ajit Doval, who reportedly monitored the entire operation flanked by the Army chief and defence minister Manohar Parrikar, got a call on Wednesday morning from his American counterpart Susan Rice.
According to the report, Rice completely toed Indian line on Uri and “offered condolences to families of the Uri attack victims and expressed support for India on the issue of terrorism.”
This surgical strike is merely the culmination of a concerted diplomatic and military initiative. Narendra Modi government deserves plaudits for handling it carefully.