Manohar Parrikar can be excused the exaggeration when speaking back home in his backyard in Goa. On that count and since by now he has a reputation for shooting from his mouth, we can let the macabre in his allusion to ‘gouge out eyes’ of the enemy pass. However, is his declaration that Pakistanis have thrown in the towel - a trifle premature?
The way the defence minister put it, the Pakistanis hurting from a bout of cross border and trans-Line of Control (LoC) firing, sought out our Director General Military Operations(DGMO) to call a truce. They have reportedly kept their side of the bargain since. Perhaps Raheel Sharif wanted to retire with a blaze of gunfire in the background, lest the memory of surgical strikes plagues him in retirement.
Nevertheless, this is all for the good, since civilian casualties were also being regularly reported on both sides. These were of levels beyond what might be reasonably clubbed as collateral damage. Pakistanis, while appearing responsive to the pleading of their border populace, are interested in turning down the heat so that their army is spared paying for what the jihadis wrought.
The tacit ceasefire since November 2003 provided a decade of breathing space to the border residents, which brought some normalcy to life, utilization of areas adjoining the LoC for cultivation, forest produce and occupation.
The present government’s Pakistan policy took a U-turn with border firing resuming in September-October 2014 after the abrupt cancellation of talks in August. It has been downhill since then, with the recent round of ordnance exchanges amounting to a throw-back to two decades ago.
The pitch is higher this time as evident from the surgical strikes, mutilations, attacks on military targets in the interior and the political rhetoric in India. Presumably for deterrence and as punishment, Parrikar threatens to give back double of what India receives. Does this help India in any way?
The terror attack in Nagrota is just another instance of a pattern of attacks over the past few years in which Pakistan has exacted a toll on our security forces. It has evidently moved away from targeting civilians in wake of the opprobrium it was subjected to post 26/11 Mumbai attacks.
The move is sensible from Pakistani point of view. Politically, it keeps the pot boiling in Kashmir, suggesting externally that all is not quite in Kashmir and internally to Kashmiris that they have not been entirely abandoned by it. Militarily, it helps tie down the Indian army in protective duties, thereby, tiring it out.
Then there is the culture of chowkidari in Indian army. The army throws manpower at every problem, ranging from warding of China (with a mountain strike corps) to grass cutting (with fatigue details). It can be expected to continue doing so as reflected in its recruiting and training systems.
This explains India’s use of special forces instead of infantry for the surgical strikes. An over reliance on special forces where infantry could well be used is suggestive of a sluggish army, with only the narrow elite endowed with military quality and the rest somewhat jaded, beaten down by guard duties and fatigue details.
The Rashtriya Rifles continues to be deployed across Kashmir. It has maintained this force in location to be used not so much for counter insurgency, since that is at ebb, but as a back up to its conventional forces in case the so-called Cold Start doctrine is activated.
However, the potential for Kashmir to boil over at a crunch is clear from the 133 days standoff across the state this summer. While India has sufficient paramilitary adept at suppressive duties in such conditions, they would likely aggravate the situation in the circumstance of war. Pakistan can thus potentially tie down the Rashtriya Rifles too.
The upshot is that the offensive forces India has for deploying against Pakistan cannot upset the status quo in Kashmir. As they say, ‘mountains eat troops’. Mr. Modi’s reference to Pakistan Occupied Kashmir and Gilgit and Baltistan from the Red Fort ramparts is but chimerical.
Sure, India has offensive capability in the plains. While the offensive content of pivot corps can be blunted by Pakistan, India has locked up its offensive punch in strike corps, which can be unusable in the nuclear age. This has more to do with internal turf wars within the military than a war winning strategy .
Taking advantage of their higher numbers the infantry and artillery have taken over the army’s commanding positions. As a sop to the cavaliers, the outdated strike corps still continue in the face of Pakistan's tactical nuclear weapons. The logic is that Pakistan cannot be allowed to dictate India’s doctrine, both conventional and nuclear. Thus even if integrated battle groups have replaced strike corps, India loathes to admit it.
The logical next steps from surgical strikes and demonetization is war. Pratap Bhanu Mehta calls this a permanent revolution. India can blame Pakistan for making it go nuclear. Even so, India has not come up with an answer to break out of the Pakistani sandwich of its conventional forces with irregular war on one hand and nuclear war on the other.
Consequently, if probed, Parrikar would be hard put to explain his thesis that India can put Pakistan’s ‘gouged out eyes’ back in its hand. Gouging out eyes can certainly be done. India has the kilo tonnage for that, but putting the eyes back in Pakistan’s hand would be a tall order. For in the bargain India would also be blind.