Home > 2016 > India’s ‘Surgical Strikes’ Remain an Enigma

Mainstream, VOL LIV No 42 New Delhi October 8, 2016

India’s ‘Surgical Strikes’ Remain an Enigma

Sunday 9 October 2016, by M K Bhadrakumar

The Indian journalists must be compulsorily made to read the parting speech by Helen Boaden, Director of the BBC Radio, as she resigned from her position last weekend, on how the scramble for ‘breaking news’ is degrading and destroying what used to be a wonderful profession. She valiantly makes a case for ‘slow news’. (Independent)

At issue here is the Indian media coverage of our “surgical strikes” across the Line of Control at Pakistan on September 29. India has been whipped into frenzy by the media. What happened is not good for the health—of indivi-duals or of the nation. Fortunately, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley interjected with perfect timing to take the mind away to the exciting vista of the “biggest disclosure” in independent India’s history by tax-evading crooks.

But that crime thriller can make the “surgical strikes” go away only momentarily. According to news from Islamabad, a top aide to PM Narendra Modi contacted a key figure on September 30 to convey to PM Nawaz Sharif India’s desire not to ‘escalate’. But then, Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar promptly undercut Modi the very next day by just recalling the Caesarean section by India to take out the little Bangladeshi infant out of the Pakistani womb. (The Hindu)

So, Jaitley is passe. The prospect of war with Pakistan is wide open, again. Parrikar must be rather pleased with himself. In fact, he is only being true to himself. Remember his famous statement in June last year that the people of India were losing respect for the Indian Army, because it no longer fought wars! (DNA)

Meanwhile, the “surgical strikes” as such remain an enigma wrapped in mystery. The government has officially stated very little on the actual operation. Almost the entire Indian media coverage is based on off-the-record briefings or hearsay, or, worse still, the fiery imagination of journalists. Spin doctors had a whale of a time.

Two things must be said about Indian Army: one, it takes the business of war very seriously and will not make exaggerated claims; and, two, it is very precise with words. Especially so, the office of the Director-General of Military Operations (DGMO), the transcripts of whose conversations with Pakistani counterparts I have had occasion to read in their dozens while heading the Pakistan Division in the Ministry of External Affairs.

However, in his entire presentation on September 29, DGMO Lt. Gen. Ranbir Singh actually said nothing to corroborate what the media reported. And he read out from a prepared text.

Troubling questions arise.

Not a single American lawmaker—and there could be quite a few who are within the orbit of the Indian embassy’s influence—has spoken specifically about our “surgical strikes”. They only speak about India’s commitment to counterterrorism. These are of course Congress-men who are willing to speak up for India in real time, rain or sunshine. Why are they so aloof?

The US State Department briefings too neatly sidestepped our “surgical strikes” and stuck to old mantras—supreme importance of India-Pakistan engagement, etc. Nor did the White House read out on the conversation between NSA Susan Rice and her Indian counterpart, Ajit Doval, make reference to “surgical strikes”. (One could argue, perhaps, Doval couldn’t be expected to disclose beforehand an imminent James Bond-style operation, but then, Rice represents Washington’s ‘defining partnership’ with the Modi Government.)

To be sure, Americans have positioned military satellites above India that could spot a bat flying in the dark. And they must be knowing what exactly happened.

Again, Russians too have advanced capabi-lities. In fact, a Russian Army contingent is conducting exercises in Pakistan. Yet, the Russian official media tiptoed around our “surgical strikes”. The RT report pointedly noted: “He (DGMO Ranbir Singh) did not elaborate on the nature of the operations, or whether Indian troops had entered Pakistani territory.”

There were no references to our “surgical strikes” by the FO spokeswoman in Moscow, either. Maria Zakharova, in her briefing on September 29, touched on 12 different topics and took thirteen questions, but there was no take on “surgical strikes”.

Now, the unkindest cut of all is that United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon’s spokesman disclosed in New York on October 1 that the UN Military Observers’ Group in India and Pakistan “has not directly observed any firing across the LoC related to the latest incident (of September 29)”. We simply stonewalled the UN’s remark.

It is all becoming rather murky. In the absence of authoritative statements, Pakistani version gains the upper hand—namely, that there were no “surgical strikes” and that Indians simply hyped up artillery exchanges and are hiding heavy casualties.

Perhaps, the MEA spokesman could at least contest the Pakistani version factually. It’s anyway ‘slow news’ already, as Helen Boaden put it.

Ambassador M.K. Bhadrakumar served as a career diplomat in the Indian Foreign Service for over 29 years, with postings including India’s ambassador to Uzbekistan (1995-1998) and to Turkey (1998-2001).