FROM THE EDITOR-IN-CHIEF
The September 29 surgical strikes by India have changed the dynamics of the complicated India-Pakistan relationship. The government not only authorised the Special Forces attacks on terror launchpads in Pakistanoccupied Kashmir but publicly acknowledged them, marking a strategic departure from its convention of turning the other cheek. The new gameplan of offensive defence—the principle of being proactive rather than passive when attacked to regain the strategic advantage and cramp an opponent’s ability to launch a counter-offensive—has been met with a huge roar of approval across the country and even from opposition parties.
But the policy of making it unaffordable for Pakistan to indulge in terror as war by other means has huge implications and high costs. Pakistan’s riposte for the surgical strike was an attack on an army camp in Baramulla on October 4, leaving a BSF soldier dead. India is well aware of the consequences and needs to prepare for them. The attack on an air base in Pathankot on January 2 and on an army camp in Uri in September 18 exposed the chinks in our armour.
So, how prepared is India for a long-drawn-out campaign? There are two aspects to it—paramilitary preparedness, which involves perimeter defence, and the ability to launch and sustain a war by the armed forces. The counter infiltration fence, which stretches 540 km along the Line of Control, is already a decade old. It has reduced infiltration to a great extent, but it needs to be technologically augmented. Maintenance of technology is not one of our strengths. In the Pathankot attack, terrorists breached the international border in Punjab at precisely those points where BSF sensors were not working. War readiness also demands being on permanent red alert. In Uri, the assault took place when battalions were off-guard during a change of command.
In January, Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar set up a committee, headed by a retired Lt General, to inquire into the security lapses in Pathankot. The committee submitted a comprehensive report to the ministry in May this year, and is the first of its kind to talk about the security of army, navy and air force bases. Four months have passed; Uri and Baramulla have happened, but the report has not been implemented, for reasons best known to those who sit comfortably ensconced in South Block while our vulnerable soldiers look death in the eye every day.
The cover story, by Executive Editor Sandeep Unnithan, explores why India made the strike and what lies ahead. He describes, in a separate piece, what really happened on the night of September 28, when a hundred-odd elite troops struck multiple locations across the LoC. The cover package also discusses whether such surgical strikes will be the new normal. Army officials privately acknowledge at least two cross-border special forces raids in 2008 and 2011. However, these were authorised by Northern Army command, in response to specific action by Pakistan army Border Action Teams, and not publicised.
The tragedy is that the real war that India and Pakistan should be waging, as Prime Minister Narendra Modi said recently, is the one against poverty, unemployment, illiteracy, infant mortality and maternal deaths. That, unfortunately, is a far cry from what Pakistan seems to have in mind. We now anxiously wait to see the consequences of India’s bold new blueprint. Ultimately, war is no solution. India and Pakistan have to resolve their differences through dialogue—war is a means, not an end. Skilled diplomacy cannot be replaced by booming guns. Whether through military retaliation or by isolating it as a global outlaw, Pakistan has to be made to realise that there are costs to its sponsorship of terrorism. A constant state of low-intensity conflict can only bleed both India and Pakistan by a thousand cuts. Dialogue has to be resumed to solve our differences peacefully and for both countries to get down to the business of providing good governance to their citizens. That’s what people really care about.
OUR SEPTEMBER 2016 COVER