It never takes long for an India-Pakistan fracas to dissolve into a farce. The unintended fun has arisen from the Bharatiya Janata Party government not giving up on the “surgical strike” issue to wring every last drop of political capital out of it. Except, the claim of this retaliatory action of being generically different from previous such cross-LoC actions by Special Forces (SF) has now been officially hollowed out by Foreign Secretary K. Jaishankar, who merely repeated the statement by his predecessor Shivshankar Menon that the only difference was that the Narendta Modi government to make it public but added mysteriously that going public was in order to unveil a new “strategy”.
What strategy? The one of carrying out “limited-calibre, target-specific, counter-terrorist operations”. OK. But publicly owning up to an anti-terrorist operation is no bad thing if a really major aim was achieved. But when the goal itself was pretty minor — of destroying some LeT/JeM staging camps and killing anybody getting in the way, as the FS’ explanation itself suggests, it is hard to transform it into a military spectacular without the whole episode turning into one generating mirth. All a retired, much respected paratrooper general who visited me the day before yesterday could do when asked about the unfolding comedy was to make embarrassed noises. He couldn’t make head or tail of it anymore than anyone has been able to.
Something so obvious should have been kept in mind when the Modi regime chose to announce it to the world. So, a bit of chest-thumping doesn’t hurt. But it is precisely this He Man-activity the PM had asked his BJP colleagues to refrain from. As if to further roil the issue, defence minister Manohar Parrikar attributed the decisiveness shown by Modi and himself in ordering SF retribution for the Sept 28 terrorist attack on Uri to a mindset firmed up during their time in the RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh). Not to be contained, Modi, on the basis, of this SF action compared India to Israel. A more inapt comparison is hard to conceive. The actions would have been comparable had the Indian reaction been more in the Ram Madhav-articulated mould of “jaw for a tooth”. Actually, the Israeli retaliatory principle is rearranging the skull for a slap — which metric doesn’t fit any Indian military action to-date (other than 1971 war to liberate Bangladesh).
At a practical level, Israeli retaliation believes in methodically eliminating the leadership — if hydra-headed, a head at a time. It is something the Israeli Intelligence is geared for, because it seeks realtime information about the evolving Hezbollah or militant Palestinian leadership race. No sooner a controlling head surfaces, it is chopped off in response to usually small Palestinian provocation. Whole Arab villages are bombed for a katyusha rocket attack. This is simply not the sort of counter-insurgency, anti-terrorist wars, or even hard-hitting conventional military conflicts, the Indian Army is either prepared for or ordered to fight.