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Mainstream, VOL LIV No 43 New Delhi October 15, 2016

Relevance of Surgical Strikes

Sunday 16 October 2016, by Kuldip Nayar

I was against surgical strikes because I thought it would escalate things and probably go to a point of no return. But now that the strikes have been made I back the government. I am reminded of George Bernard Shaw, the eminent literary personality, who said that he was a worst critic of the British Government but since it was in the midst of war he supported it.

Probably, India had no option. Terrorists, who were taking shelter on the Pakistan soil and operated from there, had to be punished. Islamabad did not do anything to stop or foil their activities. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has said that his country would retaliate and perhaps the attack near Baramulla area was what he meant by revenge.

As India’s Chief of Air Staff, Air Marshal Arup Raha, has said, the reply to what happened at Uri when India’s 19 soldiers were killed by the terrorists is being given and the Uri operation is not yet complete. He said: “It is still live”, without commenting on the surgical strikes. I don’t think that both India and Pakistan, the nuclear powers, will cross the red line. Escalation on the border can be controlled up to a point but when events take over it will be difficult to say what will happen on the war theatre.

National Security Advisors of the two countries, Ajit Doval and Sartaj Aziz, have met and agreed to bring down tension. Why couldn’t they have done it before the surgical strikes took place? Aziz must have gauged the depth of anger in India with all political parties backing Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government. Nawaz Sharif, too, has got sanctions from the political parties in Pakistan. He had convened a special meeting to apprise the Opposition of the situation.

Public opinion in both the countries has become hawkish. It’s unfortunate that Pakistan is prepared even for a nuclear war if it comes to that. The people on both sides want an end to the daily tension and desire the government of their country to ensure that they don’t have to live with such constant fears.

The SAARC summit would have been an occasion when things could have been discussed across the table. But all the countries have pulled out from the meeting at Islamabad. They say that the climate is not conducive for the SAARC to meet. Still there is no other venue where all the countries in the region could have met and talked on the situation threadbare.

Pakistan should realise that its behaviour is such that other countries in the region are not willing to accept its doings. But terrorists like Hafiz Sayeed are openly operating from the Pakistani soil. India took the case to the UN but China, Pakistan’s ally, used the veto power and did not allow the UN to formally declare Hafiz Sayed a terrorist. It was an unfortunate use of veto power but China goes to any limits to stand by its ally.

As a result, the deadlock continues to the detriment of democratic India. The situation can escalate to dangerous proportions at any time because Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is always overlooked by the Army. This means that the Army does not have to go to the front literally and yet lead the elected Nawaz Sharif from its headquarters at Rawalpindi.

The problem that Pakistan has to reckon with is the uprising in Balochistan and the attack from Afghanistan. Since both do not have a full-fledged army to back them, the war would be a limited one. No doubt, the Americans have withdrawn their troops from Afghanistan but a small contingent has stayed there at the specific request of Kabul.

New Delhi is now openly supporting Baloch leader Brahumdagh Bugti, who has been offered asylum in India. Following his example, many Balochis, who are at the moment residing in Europe and elsewhere, will seek to come to India. This will open another front against Pakistan which India can utilise to tell the world that the uprising in Balochistan was like the one in East Pakistan, which liberated itself to become Bangladesh in 1971.

The rebellion is a warning to Islamabad that Balochistan could secede. In fact, it has Shias as a majority like Iran and does not fit into the Pushto region which is all around. Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, the Frontier Gandhi, is from the region. When I met him years ago his complaint was that Jawaharlal Nehru had not kept his promise to establish an independent country for the Pushto-speaking people.

Nehru was helpless because Balochistan was part of Pakistan and he had accepted the establish-ment of Pakistan at the time of partition. Badshah Khan, as the Frontier Gandhi was called, was now a citizen of Pakistan. Any step from Nehru would have amounted to a war and he naturally was not prepared for it.

Prime Minister Modi is a different kettle of fish. Yet, his policy so far has been give-and-take. He was the one who invited to his swearing-in ceremony all leaders of the SAARC countries. Modi also stopped at Islamabad while returning from Afghanistan to extend a friendly hand despite furore at home. But today the situation on the ground is different and may force Modi to look at things from another perspective.

The surgical strikes are one such option which he has exercised. Nawaz Sharif’s threat of further retaliation could lead to a worst situation. Even Modi may not be able to control when events take over. They have their own ways of expressing themselves and can mean anything. It’s time that Pakistan pulls itself back from the abyss because it can fall from the cliff.

That will be too dangerous for the country. After all, Pakistan should know by now that after having fought three wars—in 1948, 1965 and 1971—its loss was far greater than it could inflict on India. Even it had to seek the good offices of President Clinton to get the Pakistani soldiers, who had infiltrated the territory, out from the Kargil heights.

The author is a veteran journalist renowned not only in this country but also in our neighbouring states of Pakistan and Bangladesh where his columns are widely read. His website is www.kuldipnayar.com