We can’t take mil­i­tary ac­tion to suit some­one po­lit­i­cally: Lt Gen DS Hooda

Hindustan Times (Amritsar) - - Punjab - Man­raj Gre­wal Sharma man­raj.gre­[email protected]

CHANDIGARH: “The mil­i­tary lead­er­ship must guard against be­com­ing a tool in the hands of politi­cians. We can’t take mil­i­tary ac­tion to suit some­one po­lit­i­cally,” Lt Gen DS Hooda (retd), the North­ern Army Com­man­der at the helm of sur­gi­cal strikes in Septem­ber 2016, said, adding though the ac­tion needed pub­lic­ity to boost the sag­ging morale of soldiers, the ex­cess hype and po­lit­i­cal one-up­man­ship around it was un­called for and could make it dif­fi­cult to ex­e­cute such strikes in fu­ture.

The vet­eran was mod­er­at­ing a ses­sion on the “Role of cross-border op­er­a­tions and sur­gi­cal strikes” on Day 1 of Mil­i­tary Lit­er­a­ture Fes­ti­val or­gan­ised by the Pun­jab gov­ern­ment at Lake Club in Chandigarh on Fri­day.

Ru­ing the po­lit­i­cal colour given to the ac­tion, Col Ajai Shukla (retd), a de­fence an­a­lyst, pointed out that the strikes helped the Modi gov­ern­ment bur­nish its na­tion­al­is­tic im­age and gave the BJP a thump­ing win in the Ut­tar Pradesh elec­tions.

RAIDS BUSI­NESS AS USUAL

The pan­el­lists, all for­mer army of­fi­cers, un­der­lined that cross-border op­er­a­tions are com­mon form of retri­bu­tion on the Line of Control. Col Shukla re­counted how af­ter the Kargil in­tru­sions were dis­cov­ered in 1999, In­dian troops raided a Pak­istani post, killed 12 soldiers and brought back a vis­i­tors’ book signed by Gen Pervez Mushar­raf.

Lt Gen JS Cheema (retd) said what set this op­er­a­tion apart was that it was the first time the army re­sponded to a ter­ror­ist op­er­a­tion in the hin­ter­land. “The pre­vi­ous cross­bor­der op­er­a­tions were mostly in re­sponse to Pak­istan’s Border Ac­tion Team (BAT) ac­tion,” he said. This was a con­certed op­er­a­tion by the 15 and 16 Corps across four to five points on the border.

Lt Gen Hooda said the at­tack on the bri­gade head­quar­ters at Uri that left 17 soldiers dead was the trig­ger and their aim was sim­ple. “Ter­ror­ists had been tar­get­ing mil­i­tary in­stal­la­tions since the end of 2013... Walk­ing with the army chief through three inches of ash at Uri, we were clear that we had to go across.” They re­fur­bished an old plan and sent spe­cial forces across the border. The plan re­ceived the go-ahead from none other than the Prime Minister and the na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser.

Pub­lic­ity, Lt Gen Hooda said, was es­sen­tial at that time. “We were be­ing told that you can’t pro­tect your soldiers, it was vi­tal to boost the morale of our soldiers.” The strikes, he said, achieved their lim­ited mis­sion by spreading panic among Pak­istani soldiers. “Leaves were can­celled and there was com­plete shock on their side.”

But the ex­cess hype, he ad­mit­ted, didn’t help. “There were se­lec­tive leaks to the me­dia, and too much po­lit­i­cal ban­ter around it.”

When Col Shukla won­dered why our first re­sponse is to send ground troops in­stead of launch­ing pre­ci­sion at­tacks, Lt Gen Hooda said they had stud­ied all op­tions. “We don’t have the pre­ci­sion weapons or the sur­veil­lance abil­ity.”

SUC­CESS OR FAIL­URE?

Giv­ing the Is­raeli ex­am­ple, Lt Gen NS Brar (retd) pointed out that strikes of this mag­ni­tude must achieve a higher strate­gic ob­jec­tive which these didn’t. Call­ing them a glo­ri­fied “ghatak” (lethal) at­tack, Shukla won­dered if it was “all po­lit­i­cal games­man­ship only di­rected at the UP polls”.

He pointed out how even as the strikes were un­der­way on Septem­ber 29, 2016, the cen­tral gov­ern­ment met to cut the dis­abil­ity pen­sion by up to 40%.

The strikes, he said, didn’t chal­lenge the Pak­istan red line con­trary to the ar­gu­ment that In­dia had shown Pak­istan that its nu­clear threat won’t work any longer. Also, cross-border shelling is at an all-time high this year.

Call­ing the strikes a lim­ited suc­cess, Lt Gen Cheema said they were in­tended to make ev­ery ter­ror­ist act cost­pro­hibitive for Pak­istan.

The pan­el­lists were unan­i­mous that it would be fa­tal to politi­cise any mil­i­tary act. As Brar said: “A ques­tion that bugs me is that what if we had some ca­su­al­ties, some pris­on­ers, would the pow­er­sthat-be have taken own­er­ship?”

He warned: “Mil­i­tary ac­tion ini­ti­ated to win an elec­tion is very dan­ger­ous.” Hooda agreed: “It’s for the mil­i­tary lead­er­ship to re­sist be­ing used by politi­cians.”

DE­FENCE EX­PERTS SAY

SUR­GI­CAL STRIKES SERVED A LIM­ITED END; EX­CESS PUB­LIC­ITY ONLY SERVED THE BJP, WILL MAKE IT DIF­FI­CULT TO EX­E­CUTE OP­ER­A­TIONS IN FU­TURE

Lt Gen DS Hooda ■

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