The idea of ‘surgical strikes’ has gained popularity in drawing room and public house conversations after the terrorist attacks on Mumbai. Srinath Raghavan & Rudra Chaudhuri explain why they are not such a good idea (linkthanks Dhruva).
‘Surgical strikes’, we are told, could go a long way in destroying terrorist camps and infrastructure located in Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir. Precision munitions or ‘smart bombs’ would minimise the collateral damage, so making it clear that these attacks have been designed to target terrorist groups and not the Pakistani state. Surgical strikes are thus presented as a via media between disastrous war and debilitating peace. However, past experiences demonstrate both the conceptual fallacy and the practical problems of this strategy.
Indeed, any Indian attack will draw a proportionate response from Pakistan. The Pakistani army chief has openly stated as much. This would leave India to decide whether it wants to escalate further or pull back with resultant loss of face — both equally unattractive options. The pressure at that point would likely force New Delhi to raise the stakes; Pakistan will respond in kind. Escalation is, therefore, inherent in this situation.
The assumption that a surgical strike will enable India to pressurise Pakistan without risking war is gravely mistaken. John Kennedy’s advisor, McGeorge Bundy, put it well: a surgical strike, like all surgery, will be bloody, messy, and you will have to go back for more. [DNA]