Reports emerged on Monday that the National Security Advisers of India and Pakistan talked over the phone and decided to de-escalate tensions along the Line of Control (LoC) in Kashmir. Although New Delhi has not yet confirmed or denied this report, it is imperative that concrete measures be taken by both sides to scale down the level of violent rhetoric. Islamabad has so far sought to repudiate the Indian army’s claim that it conducted surgical strikes at “terrorist launch pads” across the Line of Control on September 29. In fact, the Pakistan army has gone to the extent of taking a group of 40 local and foreign journalists to the areas claimed to have been struck by Indian forces to buttress its point. Pakistan’s claims seemingly received a further confirmation when the United Nations Military Observers Group for India and Pakistan stated that it “has not directly observed” any such strike as claimed by New Delhi. Dismissing these remarks, India’s Permanent Representative to the UN Syed Akbaruddin said the facts on the ground do not change whether somebody has “observed” it or not. “Facts on the ground do not change whether somebody acknowledges or not,” he said. “Facts are facts, we presented the facts and that’s where we stand.” There has been growing clamour both at home and abroad that the Indian government release evidence it claims to have in its possession about these strikes. Responding to a query on doubts raised by Pakistan over the operation as India did not release the footage of the operation, Home Minister Rajnath Singh said, “Just wait and watch”. Opposition leaders like Arvind Kejriwal, meanwhile, have urged the Centre to expose “Pakistan’s false propaganda” by releasing footage of the strikes. Why has the government not officially released this important piece of information in the public domain? Some fear that specific details of the surgical strikes would make it harder for Pakistan to deny India’s claims—thus increasing public pressure on Islamabad and Rawalpindi to retaliate. But such a concern seems misplaced, especially since the NDA government has quietly fed the India media with reports that have already fuel retaliatory impulses across the border. In light of Pakistan’s supposed “propaganda offensive”, it is incumbent upon the Indian government to release information that Rawalpindi and Islamabad already possess.The current cycle of misinformation will only fuel the violent rhetoric across both sides of the border. Or is the NDA government waiting for an “opportune moment” to release footage? Will that “opportune moment” arrive as the next round of crucial Assembly elections approaches?
Irrespective of whether the NSAs of India and Pakistan spoke over the phone on Monday morning, it is evident that tensions between both sides show no signs of subsiding. This fact was laid bare by news of a militant attack on an Indian Army and BSF camp in Baramulla in Jammu & Kashmir late on Sunday night. While the attack was foiled, a BSF soldier was killed, raising fresh concerns about the impact of the surgical strikes. It is imperative to note what the Indian Army’s Director General of Military Operations Ranbir Singh said when he publicly announced the surgical strikes against terror installations in Pakistan on September 29. “The operations were basically focused on ensuring that these terrorists do not succeed in their design of infiltration and carrying out destruction and endangering the lives of citizens of our country,” he said. Various pro-establishment Indian media houses have argued that the message is India henceforth reserves the right to launch strikes, including preemptive ones, to counter terror from across the border. Any attempt by Pakistan to fuel militancy in India will be met with requisite force. In other words, New Delhi has projected the surgical strikes across the Line of Control as preventive measures. As many retired military commanders and strategic experts have argued, the Indian Special Forces have carried out surgical strikes in the past and will continue to do so protect our borders. What has changed is that the Indian government chose to make these strikes public, indicating a major shift in strategy. In a recent column for a new website, Daniel Markey, a reputed scholar at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies in Washington, wrote: “The strikes plugged a big hole in India’s policy repertoire and simultaneously delivered the right messages to multiple audiences at once. Rarely has New Delhi managed such a shrewd response to terrorist provocation. Facing political and strategic compulsions to respond to the Uri attack with force, Prime Minister Narendra Modi correctly judged that business-as-usual policies (such as cross-border artillery fire and diplomatic gestures) were unlikely to convince his Indian constituents that he was truly a tougher leader than his predecessor. Although some of Modi’s staunchest supporters might still prefer an outright war with Pakistan, surgical strikes – along with the way they were announced to the world – were sufficiently novel and robust to sate domestic appetites.”
India has carried out surgical strikes in the past but chose not to declare them publicly. This policy had seemingly failed because none of these undeclared raids deterred the Pakistani military establishment from actively supporting militancy in India. Add the need to assuage public sentiment after the Uri attack, and it is evident why the NDA government decided to go public. But Monday’s militant attack on an Indian army camp in Baramulla seems to indicate that Pakistan has not received the message. New Delhi must reevaluate the efficacy of such surgical strikes and its decision to go public with them over a period of time to further India’s strategic objective of ending the threat of terrorism emanating from Pakistan.