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