Opinion Op Ed 25 Oct 2016 The economics of fid ...
General Shankar Roychowdhury is a former Chief of Army Staff and a former member of Parliament.

The economics of fidayeen warfare

Published Oct 25, 2016, 12:45 am IST
Updated Oct 25, 2016, 6:49 am IST
18 Indian Army soldiers died and more than a dozen injured in a fidayeen attack in an Army base camp in Uri. (Photo: PTI)
 18 Indian Army soldiers died and more than a dozen injured in a fidayeen attack in an Army base camp in Uri. (Photo: PTI)

The fallout of the trans-border raids in an active “hot peace” environment between India and Pakistan in Jammu and Kashmir is always unpredictable, because there are just too many imponderables. The “surgical strike” by hunter-killer teams of the special forces of the Indian Army on fidayeen bases across the Line of Control in the Naugam-Hot Springs-Nangi Tekri area in Kashmir on the night of September 28/29 was one such raid. It must have been ordered only after cool-headed, cold-blooded calculation of all possible results — political, diplomatic and, of course, military. In this particular instance, fortune did favour the brave. The operation was an almost flawless success — an astonishing rarity where “no plan survives contact with the enemy” — and delivered summary retribution on those responsible for the attack on the Indian Army outpost at Uri on September 18 where 19 Indian soldiers had lost their lives.

In so doing, India served notice that under the present political dispensation, India would no longer passively endure a situation which it was quite capable of curing, and Kashmir would no longer be one-way traffic, but “a whole new ballgame”. The “surgical strike” introduced a fresh element of tension and uncertainty into an old situation which had rusted into a static immobility and which Pakistan could further ignore only at its own peril. On the Indian side there are questions too. The death toll of Indian soldiers in the initial incident has been heavy — and the Indian Army needs to know why. Similar other questions are blowing in the wind regarding the mode of initial ingress by the fidayeen breaching a wire obstacle belt seeded with anti-personnel devices, as well as the possibility of local assistance for the intruders from militant sympathisers on the Indian side. It is, therefore, important that the National Investigation Agency is involved in the investigations right from the initial stages, to unearth any underground support structures for intruders from PoK that might exist on the Indian side.

The economics of “fidayeen warfare” are adversely stacked against India and cheering public euphoria must never obscure these hard realities. The “exchange rate” in terms of the human resources involved have all along been advantageous for Pakistan and adverse for India, pitching large numbers of minimally trained, but intensely indoctrinated fidayeen levies from madrasas and “Daura-e-Aam” training camps in Pakistan against regular troops of the Indian Army. Trans-border operations along the LoC in a “hot peace” environment will always be high risk, knife-edge missions not to be undertaken without thorough and detailed planning and preparations. In the type of “frontier warfare” which has engaged the Indian Army along the LoC in Kashmir ever since 1947, the difference between success and failure is often wafer thin and the best man does not necessarily win every time. Uri has demonstrated again that Pakistan is yet to break out of its bubble philosophy of the “thousand year war” against India and continues to remain the same pathologically hostile neighbour it has been since the dawn of Independence in 1947.

The “surgical strike” by the Indian Army’s special forces captured the imagination of the Indian public, seething with frustrated rage after the earlier Pakistani fidayeen attack at Uri. It also triggered a secondary political cataclysm within the country as rival political parties squabbled to extract maximum political mileage from the military success of the special forces, which will undoubtedly be a significant factor in the electioneering prior to the coming elections in a number of states. Again, for the record, it must be reiterated that the Indian armed forces have extensive experience in carrying out precision “surgical strike” operations, under a variety of operational conditions, many quite different to those obtaining on the LoC in Kashmir. Perhaps the most notable amongst these would be the precision strike par excellence carried out by four MiG-21 fighters of the Indian Air Force on December 14, 1971, during the penultimate stages of the Bangladesh War of Liberation, targeting the meeting hall under the dome of the Durbar Hall of the Government House at Dhaka on December 14, 1971, at the precise moment when a very reluctant Mr Abdul Malik, a mild mannered Bengali academic, was being “coercively sworn in” there as the governor of East Pakistan.

The ceremony, of course, ended abruptly as did the War of Liberation in Bangladesh a few days later. It is also a matter of historical record that the Congress Party, at that time the political party in government, launched extensive political campaigns to reap electoral benefits in the general elections which were to follow, most notably the slogan “Indira is India, and India is India” coined by Dev Kanta Barooah, a Congress Party apparatchik, trumpeting his totally sycophantic devotion to Mrs Indira Gandhi, equating the country with the persona, and even suggesting that the persona was in some respects even greater than the country itself.

Needless to say, the Congress won the general elections of 1972 almost effortlessly. Similarly, the performance of the Indian Army and Air Force at Kargil in 1999, led to a huge upsurge in public support for the incumbent Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and electoral success for the BJP. “To the victors go the spoils” is an old adage which is also standing political practice, so it should not be at all surprising if the success of the special forces at Uri in 2016 does create enhanced political support, personally for Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and hence also for the political party he leads. The “surgical strike” by Indian soldiers at Uri immediately preceded the advent of the festive season of Dussehra and Durga Puja in the country. Both festivals celebrate the victory of good over evil — a symbolism which has not been lost on Indians. Also, the Indian soldier has once again proved himself as the “Indian icon”.

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