Surgical strikes: India's defence minister should think before he speaks

Using Hanuman as a political metaphor to humiliate Pakistan is foot in the mouth.

 |  5-minute read |   02-10-2016
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The surgical strikes along the Line of Control (LoC) were carefully crafted and executed. The DGMO’s statement following the strikes was equally well crafted and drafted, leaving no room for ambiguity in addressing its targeted international, including Pakistani, audience. 

The unambiguous message to Pakistan and the world was that the surgical strikes were not an act of aggression. The narrative sounded convincing. It left Pakistan in a bind - how to craft a retaliatory narrative is still its unresolved dilemma. At the same time, it offered a leeway to the neighbouring country.

But the defence minister, Manohar Parrikar, seems to be lending a helping hand to Pakistan to pull it out of its dilemma. On Saturday, Parrikar opened his mouth on the surgical strikes. And looked eager to undo the gains.

He compared the army to Hanuman, the monkey god. Parrikar said: "Indian troops were like Hanuman who did not quite know their prowess before the surgical strikes.” He added: "The surgical strikes gave our forces an idea of what they were capable of doing.” 

It’s an infantile statement on multiple counts. Firstly, there was no need to bring in mythology of Hanuman that has religious tinge in celebration of the success of the limited strikes.

Secondly, to say that the surgical strikes reminded the forces of what they were capable of doing implies that the forces are usually sleeping unless reminded of their prowess - like Hanuman of Ramayana who leapt across the sea to land in Ravana’s Lanka in search of Sita after being reminded of his prowess.

Thirdly, Parrikar, perhaps, could get away lightly with his mythological analogy. But can he ignore the more serious implication of his statement that can have a bearing on post-surgical strikes' developments?

army-embed_100216074255.jpg To say that the surgical strikes reminded the forces of what they were capable of doing implies that the forces are usually sleeping unless reminded of their prowess. (Photo credit: India Today)  

Parrikar’s statement amounts to rubbing salt on the wounds of Pakistan. The minister should have realised that what he said is contrary to the spirit of the DGMO’s statement that was intended to provide subtle leeway to Pakistan from a difficult situation.

Parrikar forgot that Pakistan itself had lost no time in making use of the leeway provided so shrewdly by India. It denied that any strikes had taken place to hit the infiltrators’ launchpads. It claimed that two Pakistani soldiers were killed in cross-border firings, which are routine along the LoC.

Both the Indian and Pakistani narratives are designed at de-escalatory steps. The admission by the PM Nawaz Sharif government of Indian surgical strikes inside PoK would be an admission of Indian aggression.

That would have put the Pakistani government in a situation with little latitude. The Pakistani people would be baying for blood and revenge and they would have viewed Pakistani inaction against the Indian aggression as an act of cowardice.

The Pakistani media has played its own role in not questioning the narrative trotted out by the Sharif government. The Pakistani government has crafted the much-needed moral leg to stand on and fend off pressures to escalate the situation along the LoC or the border. 

A well thought-out Indian strategy would be to provide the legroom the Sharif government needs and benefit from it. Not that the strategy would totally preempt the possibility of retaliation now or later.

In fact, ruling out retaliation – be it cross-border terrorist strikes or attacks on soft targets and even serious border skirmishes - would be foolhardy. There is no room for complacency.

But even a minor crack in the de-escalatory window is a welcome step towards restoration of pre-Uri situation. That’s an important condition for peace.

Unsurprisingly, one of the most vocal critics of Sharif, former cricketer Imran Khan of Pakistan, was talking peace a day after he was swearing revenge.

Soon after he issued a statement that he would show Sharif how to react to such aggressions, Imran changed his tune. “We want peace. We are ready for friendship if you (Modi) are willing. I offer you peace, as war is no solution to problems,” he said. And then he went on Modi’s rhetorical trajectory of the Kozhikode speech.

Modi’s dream of “Shining India" would never be fulfilled if India chooses war. Fight poverty and not war, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party leader said.

This is a welcome sign. On the Indian side, CPI (M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury is one of the few prominent leaders who have been talking about the need for dialogue as the path to peace.

Parrikar evidently knows mythology to use Hanuman as a political metaphor to humiliate Pakistan. He should summon his knowledge of history too to come on top of the situation.

There is a lesson for him in ancient Indian history. In the Battle of Hydaspus (Jhelum) in 326 BC, Alexander the Great of Macedonia defeated King Poros of Paurava.

When Poros was brought in front of him, Alexander asked him how he wished to be treated. “Treat me as a king would treat another king,” Poros responded. Impressed with his reply, Alexander returned the kingdom to Poros.

After the successful surgical strikes, Parrikar should conduct himself with dignity. Both India and Pakistan have very wisely left legroom to manoeuvre themselves out of a tight corner.

As minister of defence, Parrikar must desist from cutting off his nose to spite his face.

Also read: 5 signs India's surgical strikes have deeply rocked Pakistan


Ashok K Singh Ashok K Singh @kashoksingh

He is a journalist, writer and commentator.

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