Projecting Muscular India To The World

  • Muneeb Yousuf
  • Publish Date: Oct 8 2018 3:01AM
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  • Updated Date: Oct 8 2018 3:04AM
Projecting Muscular India To The WorldFile Photo

Recently, the University Grants Commission directed all institutions of higher studies to observe September 29 as ‘Surgical Strikes Day’. The institution of higher studies are the places where different shades of ideas and dissent from politics to nationalism are shared and expressed. The decision aims to instil a patriotic culture across all these centres many of whom have always stood against something which has been deliberately pushed by the state onto masses. 

Observing ‘surgical strikes day’ is not a mere decision. There is an underlying idea behind it. ‘Surgical strikes’ is an idea and action, an action in the past but with a laden idea that the Indian state wants to endure in the future so that it becomes a marker of their military prowess and an academic tool to shape policies for better security and control. Not only this, observing ‘surgical strikes day’ is to reinforce the notions of India’s military power that dismantles groups who project violence against it and also a mark of departure from earlier government, who were reluctant on taking “bold stances” against attacks from across the border.

The dawn of the twenty-first century witnessed a major attacks on twin towers in the United States in September 2001, causing profound death and destruction. The Bush administration took the attacks as something to be dealt with sternly and for that launched the campaign of ‘War on Terror’ with an aim of “neutralising each and every terrorist on earth.” Undoubtedly, the aim of the campaign is still a far dream, however, American led ‘War on Terror’ strictly brought a paradigm shift in American foreign policy which will at least stay for some time. The American stance of ‘War on Terrorism’ emerged as a free rider for several nations like India, Russia, Israel and China, to achieve their strategic aims in similar, or near similar, situations.

The Parliament of India came under an attack in December 2001. The Indian state attributed the attack to Pakistan. Considering the Parliament attack as their ‘own 9/11’, the Indian citizenry and the state itself wanted Pakistan to pay huge price for it. After the Parliament attack, India mobilized its troops and there was a military stand-off between India and Pakistan which remained for around 10 months. The fortunate diplomatic manoeuvres by America and European nations helped in easing the crisis which had kept the two states including the world on tenterhooks of an imminent war fraught with nuclear brinkmanship. 

The periodic attacks have become a critical challenge for Indian security specialists. Though the Indian state has continuously attributed the strikes with groups based in Pakistan, India’s top echelon for decision making has failed to devise proper means of how to influence or motivate Pakistan from stopping attacks against India. After the end of military stand-off, the two states negotiated a cease-fire along the Line of Control (LoC). In the mean-time, diplomatic shuttle was actively moving between India and Pakistan, considering possible solutions to all disputes between the two nation-states. While the diplomatic shuttle was active, the iconic Taj hotel in Mumbai and other places of the city came under an attack killing more than 150 people. A high profile meeting was soon called by Prime Minister where in top national security officials deliberated upon different responses for Mumbai attacks. However, none of the options was taken as sound and viable policy for retaliation. The meeting ended with Prime Minister discarding any military move or covert action against Pakistan. 


A complex issue

The security specialists in India are struggling for a long time on how to deal with attacks emanating from Pakistan. The option of retaliation by military force becomes more challenging in the sense that the retaliation should not break the idea of deterrence at the first place, prompting Pakistan to wage a nuclear war against India. Devising a practical response against Pakistan that won’t push the former to go for something whose consequences are greater than the initial one remains a challenge to Indian specialists. The complexity also consumes the diplomatic advancements, if militant groups go with unleashing violence against India, thus completely derailing the peace process. Peace spoilers as they are referred in academia, push all efforts to square one.


Surgical Strike and the hardware

On 18 September 2016, the military base in Kashmir’s Uri came under an attack by militants which led to death of 19 soldiers. The Indian state accused Pakistan of being behind the attack. Avenge for Uri and firm action against those responsible became the prevalent discourse. The conspiracy theorists saw Uri attack as a diversion from the larger picture of deteriorating situation in Kashmir post Burhan Wani’s death. Just two weeks after the Uri attack, the Indian military proudly claimed of conducting Surgical Strikes in Pakistan administered Kashmir. The Pakistan military denied Surgical Strikes and instead mentioned of cross border firing by Indian army. 

The Surgical Strike raised questions whether Indian forces possessed the necessary capability to strike across the LoC.  Several observers were deeply skeptical of India’s possession of certain equipments which are vital for conducting surgical strike. The Israel state and the environment post Parliament attack provides a major lead to the above mentioned questions. Soon after the Parliament attack, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee ordered Indian air forces to attack militant training camps inside Pakistan administered Kashmir. However, Prime Minister was informed that to attack camps across the border, army required necessary equipments of laser guided bombs and night vision pods which India did not possess. The Indian government approached Bush administration for the stuff without which it could not conduct strikes on these camps. The mounting tensions between India and Pakistan made President Bush to refuse India what they were asking. After the refusal from U.S., the Indian government approached Israel, who unlike America agreed to provide but with a condition that India has to wait for a period of six months. After a period of six months, Israel’s Defence minister arrived in New Delhi along with all the necessary equipments and gadgetry. Michael Krepon, who is an authority on nuclear stability and crisis management in South Asia argues that there is nothing new about conducting raids across the Line of Control (LoC) and all BJP government has done is that it has publicized such a raid. 

The resolute action by Israel against its adversaries has greatly impressed large sections of security specialists in India, who want to emulate similar tactics against cross border attacks. The aggressive statements by the Israel’s ministry to groups who launch attacks against its civilians find increasing similarity in BJP’s statements towards violence across the border. However, there are limitations to use of force as well. 


Projecting muscular India with an eye on domestic constituency

During the 2014 Parliamentary election campaign, Narendra Modi had assured of strong reply to Pakistan for its involvement in any attacks against India. In December 2015, Narendra Modi payed a surprise visit to Lahore, meeting Nawaz Sharif. The surprise visit raised huge expectations but as usual expectations did not stay long. In the beginning of a new year, militants attacked Pathankot air force station. Apart from it, there were numerous cease fire violations on the border. The upsurge in ceasefire violations and unleashing of attacks from groups based in Pakistan questioned Narendra Modi’s claim of strongly dealing with Pakistan. In the growing pressure of not responding strongly to Pakistan’s violations, Home Minister Rajnath Singh said that Indian troops are responding to Pakistani rangers in the same language. 

Projecting muscular India has remained a constant trait of BJP. To garner votes in elections, the party uses the verbatim muscular language in rallies and speeches. Just before the assembly elections in Maharashtra, Narendra Modi made a strong statement: “the enemy has realized that times have changed and their old habits will not be tolerated, people know my intentions, and I need not to express them in words. Where Jawans have to speak, they speak with their fingers on the trigger and they will continue to speak that way”. 

With continuing cease-fire violations and periodic militant attacks, the Indian public had grown disillusioned and angry over the repetitive hollow promises by Narendra Modi. The strikes fail as a tool of sub-conventional deterrence. Even the structures which are demolished by launching surgical strikes does not lead to any big infrastructural cost to those groups who use them before crossing the Line of Control. Publicizing of surgical strikes at least proved helpful in pacifying Indian public anger.


(Muneeb Yousuf is a Ph.D. Candidate at MMAJ Academy of International Studies, Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi)