Cross-border military operations, short of war, can be hot pursuit, punitive action and intervention (terrorism). Through thousands of years of its history, India has never launched military aggression against any country despite suffering repeated invasions and loss of sovereignty. Panchsheel, propounded by Jawaharlal Nehru, underscored this tradition of non-interference in other countries.
Israel has repeatedly defeated attacks by Arab states trying to wipe out its existence. It takes immediate retaliatory action against cross-border terrorism.
In accordance with its strategy of a thousand cuts, Pakistan has carried out frequent cross-LoC/border terrorist attacks in Jammu and Kashmir for the last 26 years. No doubt inside our administered territory we have succeeded in keeping terrorist violence well under control, but it is surprising that while we claim that the whole of Jammu and Kashmir is an integral part of India, we have never sent our forces a few thousand yards across the LoC to attack terrorist camps or launching pads.
We have allowed Kashmiri separatist leaders to contact the Pakistan mission in Delhi as also visiting Pakistani leaders contacting Kashmiri separatist leaders. We have scrupulously avoided contacting separatist leaders in Northern Areas, now designated Gilgit-Baltistan, as this may ruffle feathers! We agreed to open the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad Road in 2005 without pressing for opening of the Kargil-Skardu road. The latter would provide easy access to the Shias of Kargil with their kin across the LoC. Violent agitation against Pakistan’s colonial rule has been taking place in that region for years. Local people are denied basic democratic and human rights.
The predominantly Shia population of the region has been agitating against anti-Shia measures and attempts to change the demography of the region by settling Pathan and Punjabi populations there. This agitation is being suppressed ruthlessly by the Pakistan Army. We have never given even moral support to the movement against Pakistan in Gilgit-Baltistan. Our total neglect of Gilgit-Baltistan has made matters worse for us with increasing Chinese presence and collaboration with Pakistan in this region. Yet Pakistan has been accusing us of meddling in the freedom struggle in Balochistan, without providing any concrete evidence and when we have no contiguous border with Balochistan.
Turning to the Northeast, United Liberation Front of Assam and Bodo insurgencies were at their peak in 1997 when I was appointed governor of Assam. The insurgents had their camps in the foothills of Bhutan, just across the border. They were using these as safe havens for hit-and-run attacks in Assam. Bhutan has been our most friendly neighbour since Independence. We did not undertake hot pursuit as that would have upset the King of Bhutan. We requested him to get his Army to take action against the terrorist camps. He was hesitant to do so as he feared that these militants would attack supplies going from Assam to his landlocked country. He played for time.
In 2003, when he found that we had crushed militancy in Assam, he got his Army to attack terrorist camps in Bhutan, while we laid stops at suitable border locations to deal with fleeing militants and complete their destruction. This was highly successful. We also had to deal with Naga militants across the Indo-Myanmar border. Indian and Myanmar armies conducted joint operations against them.
The Modi government has been following a muscular policy against Pakistan in Jammu and Kashmir. Heavy retaliatory fire against firing/intrusions across the international border has diminished Pakistan’s appetite for cross-border firing or intrusion across the border. In the east, our recent punitive military operation against Khaplang Nagas, eight kilometres inside Myanmar, in retaliation for the killing of 18 Indian soldiers in Manipur, has been a resounding success. Presumably, Myanmar authorities had been informed but, for the record, some noises were made in Naypyidaw.
The national security adviser went to Myanmar and the whole matter was settled amicably with an agreement to conduct joint operations by the two armies. Soon after, the Myanmar Army Chief came on a friendly visit to Delhi, Reactions in Pakistan to our cross-border operation in Myanmar have been strong. The Pakistan Parliament has passed a resolution warning India against any cross-border operation in Pakistan while remaining silent on Pakistan forces carrying out cross-border operations against India.
Pervez Musharraf, the former military dictator and the architect of infiltration across the LoC in the Kargil war, resulting in Pakistan’s defeat, has been strident in his warning to India in this regard. The best way for Pakistan to ensure that India does not launch any cross-border operation against it is to stop its forces from crossing the border/LoC. In 2003, Mr Musharraf had given such assurance, but as in the case with all agreements since 1947, Pakistan did not abide by it.
There should be national consensus on issues affecting the nation’s security. Atal Behari Vajpayee, then in Opposition, hailed India’s victory in the 1971 war, describing Indira Gandhi as Ma Durga. During the Kargil war, the Congress put up an inverted large balloon in front of its office in Delhi, mocking Mr Vajpayee’s bus diplomacy. Under strong public reaction, it had to be removed. Today the “snigeratti” brigade in the Opposition is pointing at the holes in our cross-border operation in Myanmar, without a word of praise for our troops carrying out a brilliant tactical operation.
India must continue with her efforts to promote peace with her neighbours but at the same time not ignore offensive military action against itself. We should maintain friendly relations with all our neighbours from a position of military strength and not accept intrusions without suitable retaliatory action.
The writer, a retired lieutenant-general, was Vice-Chief of Army Staff and has served as governor of Assam and Jammu and Kashmir