Former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has finally broken his silence. He recently confirmed that the armed forces under his watch had undertaken punitive action against Pakistan through multiple surgical strikes or cross border military strikes. Dr Singh’s remarks came in the wake of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s incessant accusations that the Congress was soft on Pakistan and was afraid to take punitive action against terrorists.
The former Prime Minister has all along maintained that he would “like to carry some secrets with me to the grave” — he has also been opposed to the politicisation of the armed forces. However, when repeatedly accused by the BJP of inaction and being soft on Pakistan-based terrorists, Dr Singh has chosen to nail the lie being propagated by his opponents.
It’s not just the former Prime Minister, but also reportedly several members of the armed forces who have made it abundantly clear that claims of no surgical strikes or punitive action being undertaken against Pakistan prior to 2014 “are not true”.
Two former Army Chiefs, General VP Malik and General Bikram Singh, have in the past admitted that the armed forces had conducted surgical strikes — without publicising it. The latest to confirm the fact that surgical strikes did indeed take place prior to 2014 is Lt Gen DS Hooda (Retd). His assertion is significant, considering that the surgical strike carried out by the Modi government after the terrorist attack in Uri happened under his watch.
The statements made by the three retired Generals are at variance with claims being made by the Prime Minister and former Army Chief General VK Singh — who is also MOS in the Modi government. Both leaders have maintained that there are no records to show for the strikes. If that indeed is true, then it is intriguing — because several high-ranking, albeit retired personnel from the forces have listed several cross-border surgical strikes carried out by the armed forces.
Most of the surgical strikes were in retaliation for attacks carried out by Pakistan.
In July 2011, an Indian Post was attacked in the Kupwara sector and two of our soldiers were beheaded. The Army launched Operation Ginger to avenge their deaths. A month later, three teams of Special Forces Commandos crossed the LoC in the Kupwara sector, killing several Pakistani soldiers. They apparently even brought back several severed heads in retaliation for the beheading of two Indian soldiers.
Operation Ginger was not an isolated action — several such strikes were carried out in 2013.
On January 6, 2013, our troops crossed the LoC and destroyed the Sawan Patra check-post on the Pakistani side. On July 27 and 28, 2013, similar action was undertaken in the Nazipur sector, and a few days later, on August 6, 2013, in the Neelam valley.
In the past, even during election season, political parties have refrained from seeking votes in the name of the armed forces and from politicising the forces. This is the first time that votes are being sought in the name of the armed forces. The BJP and the PM have made national security/nationalism their main election plank. In the process, they have blurred the longstanding principle of keeping the armed forces out of politics.
PM Modi also ridiculed the UPA's claims on surgical strikes by calling them video games.
However, he was called out right away by Brig Gurmeet Kanwal (Retd).
General V K Singh was the Army Chief when Operation Ginger was launched in 2011. So, he was naturally involved in the planning and final execution of the Operation. However, in his latest avatar as a BJP leader, he has chosen to deny knowledge of any such operation. And in doing so, he has also aparently become a part of the attempt to use the armed forces for political gains.
Last month, over 150 veterans — including eight former service chiefs — had written to President Ram Nath Kovind, urging him to intervene against the politicisation of the military in the Lok Sabha elections. They requested him "to urgently direct all political parties that they must forthwith desist from using the military, military uniforms or symbols, and any actions by military formations or personnel, for political purposes or to further their political agendas."
Little is known of what action the President took after the letter, but for some time, the PM and his party chose not to talk about it.
However, with campaigning now entering the final stretch, they have chosen to revisit the issue.
And in the process, the Armed Forces now find themselves being drawn into a political tug of war they would much rather stay out of.