The counter terrorist operation in Kokernag is still continuing as this article goes to print. The price we have paid is very high. The casualties include a Colonel, a Major, a DSP, two JCOs and two soldiers although all are not fatal. It does not matter whether we kill a Lashkar-e-Taiba terrorist with Rs 5 or 10 Lakh price on his head because Pakistan has an infinite supply of terrorists and its low cost option is working very well. This also means counting how many terrorists we have killed in a particular period is not the end of terrorism in J&K. With the Kokernag operation still on, to say “J&K is peaceful but we have to be careful” is fooling ourselves.
Amid the applause of cooperation in countering terrorism at various forums, G20, G7, Quad, I2U2, bilateral or whatever, don’t we realize that all big powers are “practicing” terrorism? Don’t’ we know that the West and China back Pakistan’s terrorism and that India is also in the cross hair of international terrorist organizations. Don’t we know that weapons with steel-core bullets left by the US within Afghanistan have been being used by terrorists since the past two years? The TTP has intensified attacks on Pakistan and China has officially recognized the Taliban government in Afghanistan, with the first officially appointed ambassador presenting his credential in Kabul. Have we appreciated the fallout?
Pakistan’s Kashmir Resistance channels have gone hyper with the ongoing operation in Kokernag. One post says in 2020 it was Handwara and now it is Kokernag, It may be recalled that one Colonel (CO 21 Rashtriya Rifles), one Major and five others were killed in the terrorist attack in Handwara, J&K in May 2020. In the 12-hour operation, two terrorists including one Pakistani national were killed.
The Kashmir Resistance channels are also showing a clip of Prime Minister Narendra Modi saying in Hindi “rona bund karo”. It is an edited clip of PM Modi talking to the Indian women hockey team in 2021 (https://youtu.be/cAyrDPQCfHw?feature=shared)
The message from the Pakistan-based terrorists is amply clear. The question is how long we are going to continue in this fashion although soldiers’ lives are of little consequence to politicians whose sole focus is elections and power. Witness the following trans-border counter-terrorist actions that politician don’t stop boasting about in public:
- 2015 – Raid on terrorist camps in Myanmar AFTER KYKL terrorists ambushed an Army convoy in Manipur killing 18 Army personnel.
- 2016 – Surgical strike on terrorist launch pads in POK AFTER 19 soldiers were killed and over two dozen injured in a terrorist attack in Uri although 13 died in two tents that caught fire.
- 2019 – Air strike in Balakot in POK AFTER 40 CRPF personnel died in a terrorist car bomb attack in Pulwama.
By what measure can we call these pro-active actions? Were these not reactionary, forced by political expediency? In fact, there was much discussion that the surgical strike in POK was timed with the UP state elections and the Balakot strike timed with the general elections in 2019.
Notwithstanding the above, is political expediency now demanding that terrorism be “inflamed”? How is it that an MLA of Manipur (belonging to the same political party ruling the country), heading a 100-plus women mob forces an Army column to handover 12 armed KYKL terrorists including the mastermind of the KYKL ambush that killed 18 Army personnel in an ambush in 2015 in Manipur. Which country would be so shameless and doesn’t this prove the crocodile tears politicians shed when soldiers’ sacrifice their lives in service of the nation? How is it that the terrorist-aiding MLA is not even questioned, leave aside prosecuted, and where are those 12 KYKL terrorists now – helping ethnic cleansing in Manipur or are state guests?
Henry Kissinger wrote in his book ‘World Order: Reflections on the Character of Nations and the Course of History’, “The Arthshastra sets out, with dispassionate clarity, a vision of how to establish and guard a state while neutralizing, subverting and (when opportune conditions have been established) conquering its neighbours. The Arthshastra encompasses a world of practical statecraft, not philosophical disputation. For Kautilya, power was the dominant reality. It was multidimensional, and its factors were interdependent. All elements in a given situation were relevant, calculable, and amenable to manipulation toward a leader’s strategic aims. Geography, finance, military strength, diplomacy, espionage, law, agriculture, cultural traditions, morale and popular opinion, rumors and legends, and men’s vices and weaknesses needed to be shaped as a unit by a wise king to strengthen and expand his realm.
Use of terrorism has been recorded since the 1st century. Kautilya appreciated this being waged by a country’s neighbours. It is an irony that Henry Kissinger derives strategic culture from the Arthshastra but we have failed to do so. In India, the lack of strategic culture is more on account of keeping the military out from formulating strategic policies and decision making of matters military. This has led the hierarchy to believe that conventional forces coupled with nuclear clout can deter us from irregular threats. Nothing can be farther from the truth. Pakistan, though conventionally inferior, has been successfully playing her ‘thousand cut policy’ knowing full well that India has failed to develop the required deterrent.
The NSA has not been able to define a national security strategy though officially tasked to do so in 2019. He has not made any statement whatsoever on the Manipur crisis also, which indicates Centre-State collusion on creating the crisis in Manipur. However, he did make a public statement sometime back in Rishikesh, saying, “India will take the battle to where the threat originates.” Surely we know that the roots of terrorism in J&K are in Pakistan, not in Ukraine or Central Asia.
Presently, there is speculation that some major action is possibly being planned before the general elections next year. But the bottom-line is that unless we develop holistic deterrence against Pakistan’s proxy war and demonstrate its credibility by using it, we will remain at the receiving end. There is no reason why we cannot respond within 24 hours, if not immediately, provided we have the political will. Do we remember the late Mrs Sushma Swaraj, when in the opposition, accusing the then government of wearing bangles?
The author is an Indian Army veteran. Views expressed are personal.