In the immediate aftermath of Pulwama terror attack, media mouthpieces of Modi government have dialled up their volumes manifold in asking for another military operation on the lines of Surgical Strikes which were conducted after the Uri terror attack in 2016.
If Surgical Strikes are India’s best and most thoughtful response to these attacks, then we must take stock of what was achieved by the previous version of Surgical Strikes.
The only strategic thought behind conducting Surgical Strikes or any punitive military action against an adversary is ‘compellence’. Affected gravely by the punishment meted out, the adversary is compelled to alter its behaviour and stop pursuing the course of action it has followed.
Thomas Schelling described compellence as a direct action that persuades an opponent to give up something. The fact that Kashmir witnessed a regression on all security fronts after the Surgical Strikes is proof that the idea of compellence had conclusively failed. Pulwama followed thereafter.
The second-best thing that a Surgical Strike can hope to achieve is ‘deterrence’. Schelling distinguished compellence from deterrence, which is designed to discourage an opponent from action by threatening punishment. Unlike compellence which is active and alters the status quo, deterrence is essentially when you draw a line in the sand, and threaten the other side. In this case, it would mean that Pakistan believes that gains from a major terror act in Kashmir are outweighed by the costs that would be imposed by the Modi government for taking that action. Pulwama strike indicates a failure of deterrence as well.
By conducting Surgical Strikes, Modi government failed either to compel Pakistan to alter its behaviour or deter it from conducting another terror strike. If both those aims have failed, what would another set of Surgical Strikes achieve? That is the simple question strategic analysts, retired military officials and thoughtful journalists should be asking. By not asking this question, these people are doing a great disservice to the people of India.
Perhaps these people know that the only purpose of Surgical Strikes was a limited political one, to build up Modi and Doval’s image among a domestic electoral audience. Indian media was complicit in that project and is even now trying its hardest to pull the wool over the eyes of Indians about Modi’s failures on all fronts, whether it be security, political, diplomatic and strategic.
The argument that another round of Surgical Strikes will somehow help India and prevent more loss of Indian lives has been proven wrong. The previous round also achieved little — except resulting in a slickly produced Bollywood film and that vacuous catch-line, “How’s the josh?” It may help India more amidst all this if we ask, “Where is the hosh?”-NC