Surgical is only the beginning

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]

20 thoughts on “Surgical is only the beginning”

  1. “Indeed, any Indian attack will draw a proportionate response from Pakistan. ”

    When will the reverse of this also hold true ? Any Pakistani attack, like in Mumbai will draw a proportionate response from India.

  2. Escalation may be invetable but the key (untalked about) element is pakistan’s ability to withstand escalation is far below india’s

    india should escalate, the worst case scenario is pakistan does something stupid (like use a nuke), which is prima facie all the justification we need to create a ring of radioactive land between india and afghanistan

    all this assumes, of course, that india has the guts and the nukes.

  3. One more thing. If India performs strikes and Pakistan escalates the conflict, we cannot trust the present political leadership to make the right decisions. The UPA Govt. is too weak hearted, too disunited (think about guys like Antulay) and too uninterested, uneducated and inexperienced in handling strategic and security affairs to drive India towards victory in case of war. The political leadership simply doesnt have the guts to make tough decisions when necessary. So no… no war, no surgical strikes please!

  4. The Indian military establishment might not be to keen to do anything under this present establishment.

    There are several factors for this situation.

    First, the military establishment is already seething at the way they have been made scapegoats and the fall guys to contain the – islamic anger – for the batla house encounter, which the islamists insist was fake. This islamic anger was – managed – by congress inner court by scapegoating Lt. Col Purohit and by also raising provocative questions at the way the army functions.

    Second – the further humiliation received at the hands of the babucracy. The – hum tumhe tumhara aukaat dikha denge [we will show you where you stand] is a very unique attitude found only among Indians and the military estb. has been at the receiving end of this public humiliation.

    Third – it is only the Indian military establishment, which has realized how dangerous and a situation of great peril can develop if a war is fought – Under the present Leadership – because the real power center is not the PMO but an extra constitutional authority – a small cartel – that operates from a bungalow situated at 10 Janpath, New Delhi.

    All kinds of riff raff are part of this cartel and their sole aim in life – indeed of their entire existence – is to protect the power privileges of the Nehru – Gandhis. Their nationalist credentials are absent and all gains of war can very well be squandered away by the post war decision making of this completely bastard cartel.

  5. Surgical strikes might not be a good option as it gives the enemy the initiative to escalate. And it must be admitted, it is a formidable enemy that can inflict great pain.

    Other options to interdict the enemy must also be military.

    We must also contain the – War is not an option – school of thinking.

    This school of idiots start counting the dead even before a single shot is fired. They are made up of people who start peeing in their pants the moment they overhear someone say “war”. They speak as if allah himself has called them up and told them – war is not an option.

    This school is made of the corrupt who only value the protection of their good life. Their party kind of life. The power of discourse which they hold must be taken away from them and their false questions made silent. This school of idiots must be made to silently depart into the night.

  6. @Pankaj,

    Dude, the Indian military ‘establishment’ does not exist in the same way as it does across the border. It stands ready to do what the government tasks it to do. All the story about it being victimised and insulted is polemic coming from vested interests.

  7. @Pankaj,

    That sounds *really* brave. Great idea dude. Let’s bomb them. And then let’s throw things at them. There, that was easy.

  8. More than a montha fter 26/11 and still no fresh strikes against civilians by Pak sponsored tanzeems in India??

    Tch, tch, must be slipping, those cutie-pies.

    Far as I am concerned, the calculus of rationality suggests the costs to escalating now are greater than not as escalating now. Its only when the next terror strike happens and GoI realizes that not acting means facing terror strikes *and* an eventual war anyway that concrete action may materialize. And hey, it doesn’t have to be glamorous, urgent or headline grabbing. I’ll settle for a far more silent, steady and methodical slaughter of the jihadist pigs.

    Besides, interestingly, Amar singh (some say Emir Singh) has donned patriotic colors! My my, and I thought I’d seen it all….

    Amar Singh threatens to withdraw support over inaction over Pakistan

    Much as I scoff at the UPA’s vacillations and inactions, I do appreciate that they can’t but be aware of the groundswell of popular angst at repeated Pak culpability. Whatever the INC may be, desirous of losing elections, it certainly is not.And a few more terror strikes before the LS polls could well force the issue.

  9. We are truly on our own in this. No other country will or should be allowed to mediate. We should stop the talk and start the walk – reform and modernize the internal/external intelligence apparatus and bring out the covert operations capabilities out of the cold storage. Why can’t we hunt down wanted people in Pakistan on our own? Why can’t we sabotage their economy? War and surgical strikes would be using ‘a velvet hand in an iron glove’, while we want ‘an iron hand in a velvet glove’. As the Arab saying goes: Have faith in Allah, but tie your camel. We Indians should take this pretty seriously, not just against Pakistan.

  10. How about letting the Pakistani government secretly know that we will perform a surgical strike on a LET camp? It sounds silly but it could accomplish two goals; if they don’t accept then it again calls their credibility and desire to act into question and teach us a bit more about how they think. Secondly, it would spare us from being accused of trying to spring a surprise on their soil. In fact it may even be worth asking them if they would help us put together a joint Indo-Pak task force to take out the LET camps; this would naturally have to done at the highest level in total secrecy. Again, if they refuse, the burden falls on them to explain why. If they are really interested in helping out, they may secretly try to evacuate civilians from the targeted sites; naturally this will have to be done very discretely and carries risk. The above may seem like wishful thinking, but it could be useful if not in terms of effecting action, then in terms of further interrogating the Pakistanis’ mentality. As for surgical strikes, the points made in the article are quite true, but we also have to remember that precision munitions are far better today than what they were in 1962. I am not sure if we possess such weapons, but there are some in the US arsenal which can literally take out only the firing controls of a small missile. Of course, as in other strikes, expecting no collateral damage at all is unrealistic. As for retaliation, here’s my thought; what will they retaliate against? Let’s say we more or less cleanly take out a LET camp? What equivalent target will they try to take out in India? Shiv Sena Bhavan? Also, escalation works both ways and the possibility that they may try to nuke us sounds slim given that we can massively retaliate with a second strike (I hope)

  11. This argument by Srinath Raghavan is not new. He has written before in EPW arguing not just that surgical strikes will prove disastrous but that diplomacy will actually succeed. He gives the example of negotiations with Libya to buttress his claim, a highly debatable suggestion given that there are numerous differences between the Indo-Pak and the Libyan situation (the link to the article is here).

    By the way, on a separate matter, the NSA Stephen Hadley indicated in an interview today that Pakistan is the top security challenge for the incoming Obama administration (the relevant news item can be accessed here). Has the US said that before? If so, I cannot recall it. In that sense, the recognition is itself significant.

  12. Idea of strikes is not a good idea, as we share a border with them. At the same, Pakistan would think that its priced possession has helped to avoid strikes. Don’t know how to counter Pak’s belief. India should send troops to Afghan and should make demand that they should be allowed to operate very close to Durand line. Not sure whether US would allow that. If they allow, then it would be interesting to see Pak reactions, as they won’t know who (US drones or Indian troops) hit them.

    Question is whether US would allow Indian troops to operate near Durand line ? Without that, there is no point in sending Indian troops to Afghan.

  13. AG, 🙂

    Although the first attack we make itself would be liberation both from external and the internal challenges.


    You are only partly right. The army waits for orders to march. But orders are dependent on military readiness which only the army can ratify. And sometimes the orders that come are inadequate. In 2002 Op. Parakram, the political-bureaucratic estb. wanted a – Limited War – which was rejected by the then General Padmanabhan.

    The – War is not an option – school of idiots do not seem to know that we are already in the midst of war. The normalcy they feel and value after the aftermath of an attack is a delusion. The Gods of knowledge and awareness has miles to trek before it can bite them in their arses and make them realize.

  14. Days after the Bombay attacks, Intel agencies along with US and European intelligence, came to certain leads about attacks on five other locations. In Goa, at Kalpakkam nuclear site, helicopter based attacks on key installations, an attack on INS Viraat, attacks on key targets located between Bombay to Chennai from the sea. Link

    An attack on these sites are acts of war and must not be qualified as the very convenient – terrorism by non-state actors.

  15. Surgical strikes have no meaning if If you just hit a tent in muridke and come back. Then the enemy has all the space in the world to counter attack with all he has.

    But surgical strikes can be very lethal if it is just a part of a large scale pulverizing counter force. When you remove the enemies military-civilian leadership, its nuclear and missile installations and its naval and air power, then it has very little space left to counter attack.

    Our thinking and attitude should change from hunkering down and from speaking redundant banalities and move towards decisively overcoming this great islamic challenge to our civilization comprehensively. Without any half measures.

    Our thinking should change to a willingness to absorb the enemy hits and reconstruct. The period of reconstruction is also dependent on how gravely we are hit. That is why it is very important to deny any kind of wide counter attacking space to the enemy forces. Otherwise, Indian reconstruction might extend up to 50 to 75 years.

    Even if 10 million are killed by the enemy before it has rescinded, if my decision making has helped save even 1 million lives, than that is a good achievement. If with my own hands, my own efforts and energies, I have saved even a thousand lives, when millions have been killed around me – it is a good and a worthy achievement.

    I think that should be the attitude. To eliminate the enemy and survive. A willingness to bear the unbearable. A willingness to reconstruct again.

  16. Surgical strikes can work only if they take out real infrastructure. And by “real”, I mean the kind of infrastructure that is expensive and time-consuming to rebuild.

    When the targets are nothing more than makeshift buildings to house terrorist-wannabe chaps, scale models of LOC fence and suchlike, surgical strikes are meaningless regardless of their accuracy (leave aside the fact that the US, with all its technological might, can’t get surgical strikes right despite being inside Afghanistan for years; forget also that there is no good way to contain collateral damage to “acceptable” levels).

    IMO, the only kind of military surgical strikes India should ever undertake against Pakistan are the ones to take out the entire first strike capability of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal. I imagine this would be a near-impossible mammoth task from the intelligence and logistics POV. It would also require a terrifyingly high level of confidence in our intelligence apparatus because if even one nuke is left standing, retaliation would be swift. Such a surgical strike would also have to be followed (within a few minutes) by the kind of thing that Hitler liked to call “Total War”. Essentially, it would mean annihilation of Pakistan in a couple of hours. I have no idea if India even has the logistical capability to do such a thing and keep it under wraps.

    Leaving aside such fanciful ideas (why don’t people ever pause to consider what a nuclear strike on, say, Delhi would mean for India before they start beating the war drums?), there are other kind of surgical strikes that could at least have some containing effects: Going after the Most Wanted sorts sheltered in Pakistan; and making a huge effort to trace and choke the money supplies of the same people. Dawood Ibrahim doesn’t pocket greenbacks by selling drugs in Pakistan. LeT doesn’t get money from stock dividends directly – someone sends it to them, and no, they don’t send it all in cash. Again, this would require a great deal of intelligence work (followed by diplomacy) but it has a far better chance of having an impact than military surgical strikes.

  17. I agree.

    Surgical strikes into Pakistan pose a serious problem.

    India should focus on merely taking action inside India – specifically in the PoK and Northern Areas parts coz these are technically Indian territory and even Pak accepts them as ‘disputed’.

    If we can, in a swift operation (call it ‘surgical’ if you like) capture (oops, liberate) Skardu and cutoff the karakoram lifeline between Pak and PRC, that would be sweet revenge for 26/11, for starters. From there, prodding further into Baltistan and towards Gilgit (note, these areas are oppressed, disenfranchised, shia-majority and retain no love for sunni Papistan) can’t be that difficult now, can it.

    Besides, it would also throw some big dams into our direct area of influence…

    /Ok, dream over.


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