Most military planners are familiar with the Powell Doctrine devised by the retired four-star general of the United States. Simply put, it means ‘an approach to military conflicts that advocates using overwhelming force to maximise success and minimise causalities’. Given his experience in conducting a surgical strike in Myanmar and now threatening to do so against Pakistan, the Indian military chief may also be credited with a ‘Bipin Doctrine’ — a doctrine that advocates breaching the sovereignty and territorial integrity of another county by executing surgical strikes without considering its consequence.
An MPhil in defence studies from the Madras University and a PhD for his research work in ‘military –media strategic studies’, the current Indian army chief, General Bipin Rawat, showcases academic qualifications that should put him in the league of ‘thinking soldiers’. Yet his recent comments on the possibility of surgical strikes in Pakistan, during a book launch ceremony in Delhi, suggests that there was not much military thinking involved in what he said. If anything, his comments seemed just an emotional outburst for public consumption. Coming on the heels of the Indo-Pak diplomatic tirade in the UN General Assembly, these comments from the Indian military chief suggest that the ever-elusive and ever-inconclusive process of peace between the two neighbours is not being shot down only by poor diplomacy but the military leadership also, as it is leaving no stone unturned to kick up military-to-military hatred and animosity. But let’s first see why this second-generation soldier and a recipient of a sword of honour with a worthy military career of 37 years made a statement based more on hope than any military logic?
Surgical strikes even if executed would never reduce the risk of terrorism. These will however fuel national resentment within Pakistan and put the military under extreme pressure to respond. The end result will only be escalation and not containment of hostilities. Consumed from within by a bloodbath that is on the Indian military’s hands, all that the military chief like most Indian politicians can do is try and take the world’s attention away from the state terrorism it executes in Kashmir.
Warning Pakistan that India would again carry out a surgical strike, General Bipin said “the terrorists will keep coming because the terrorist camps are operational there. We are ready, we will keep receiving them to dispatch them two-and-a-half feet below the ground… the surgical strike [Sept 29, 2016] was a message we wanted to communicate to them and they have understood what we mean… that things could follow up if required.” This isn’t General Bipin’s first warning to countries in the neighbourhood. His remarks against China that came just a week after the Indian prime minister and the Chinese president met on the sidelines of the Brics summit and agreed to end one of their worst military face-offs at Doklam, also seemed less thought out and just a military fling, most unsuitable given the time and circumstances specially when considering that the political leadership was talking conflict-resolution and he was talking conflict.
On that occasion he said that “as far as our northern adversary is concerned, flexing of muscles has started, Salami slicing, taking over territory in a very gradual manner, testing our limits of the threshold is something we have to be wary of and remain prepared for such situations, which could gradually emerge into conflict.”
Interestingly, the Indian unit that carried out the surgical strike in June 2015 to eliminate a militant camp across the border in Myanmar was part of the formation (Dimapur-based 111 Corps) commanded by then Lieutenant General Bipin Rawat. That surgical strike was carried out to avenge the death of 18 Indian soldiers killed by militants belonging to the United Liberation Front of Southeast Asia in Manipur.
Two things for a fact General Bipin already knows: one, on September 29th 2016 no surgical strike took place in Pakistan. He knows it because much of his service in almost every rank has been served in Kashmir, and he knows it is not easy to breach a heavily manned and fenced border in the area. Even if a force infiltrates or is para-dropped, it is difficult for it to extricate without taking any causalities. Two, carrying out a surgical strike in Pakistan will be quite different from carrying out a surgical strike against a militant base in Myanmar.
The 2016 false claim of a surgical strike came 11 days after 19 Indian soldiers lost their lives in an attack on their camp in Uri. The state oppression and the state terrorism being executed by the occupation Indian military force in Indian-Occupied Kashmir means that the possibility of another Uri-like attack conducted by the indigenous Kashmiri freedom fighters can never be ruled out. That may be more due to the Indian military’s incompetence and inefficiency rather than a planned plot executed from across the border in Pakistan. But given such an attack can take place, and the stakes are high in the light of the current Indian military chief’s threat to repeat the surgical strikes (the last time they were only military skirmishes), Pakistan military cannot afford to take this threat lightly.
The Indian intent has been revealed but it is not the intent against which Pakistan military should balance with the ISPR giving a statement in response, but it should balance it against the operationally deployed Indian capability in the Kashmir sector. Our military capability there must aggressively demonstrate to the Indians that their overt military action of any kind will not go un-responded and unpunished. Any surgical strike in Pakistan should present India a fait accompli that should be militarily costly and difficult to digest.
Readiness and responsiveness will be the twin guiding factors to swiftly react to the security challenge that the growing belligerent Indian army may present. Surely, the Pakistan military must already have placed the required military means and equipment to deter any Indian military aggression. Although the Indian military chief has exaggerated the threat and overstated their ability to eliminate it, Pakistan must not lower its defence shield and at the same time retaliate with full force if confronted with such a challenge.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 28th, 2017.