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The Rediff Special/ Sheela Bhatt in New Delhi
'The so-called surgical strikes are not easy'
January 12, 2009
He was responding to rediff.com's question about the government's thinking immediately after the Mumbai terrorist attacks.
He said, "As the events unfolded in Mumbai we were very unhappy. It was unfortunate. Initially we were told that it could be gang war but soon we came to know that it's a terrorist attack. Within two-three hours we came to know about the Pakistani connection because some of the terrorists were talking on their cellphones to Pakistan."
As the attack in Mumbai went on for 60 hours New Delhi [Images] had as many hours to decide its response. Asked about the government's initial reaction the source, who did not want to be named, said, "We had an option of a "selected" target to respond against the attack in Mumbai but Pakistan could select at random in retaliation to out strikes. Their missile strikes could hit a densely populated area. We had to make a judgement of the collateral damage of the surgical strike and decide if it is worth it. We are not talking of a full-fledged war here. That could have been another matter."
He reminded one of the fact that the terrorist attack on CST in Mumbai had many more casualties since it was crowded, and said population density was a very important factor with the government.
He said as Home Minister P Chidambaram [Images] had already stated, any further attacks will not be taken lightly by India. "War was not an option now, but any further event will be costly for Pakistan."
The source went on to explain that the "cost" of any kind of surgical strike cannot be bigger than the damage we intend to inflict on the enemy. He said, "When you go to war you should be 100 per cent sure of victory. If something unexpected happens then people will not forgive you. If things go out of hand the same critics (who are asking for surgical strikes against Pakistan) would ask why you went in for the strikes."
He said, "If, for some reason, the military reaction was not successful, then it would have been a greater humiliation than Mumbai. These so-called surgical strikes are not easy."
He also said diplomatically speaking, the surgical strikes could have possibly blurred the Mumbai attacks into the background and the issue of military action by India would have come up in sharp international focus. By employing the current strategy, the Mumbai attack has remained in focus.
He said, "Pakistan is rattled to hear Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's [Images] remarks. Dr Singh, who weighs his words carefully, for the first time said that "official agencies" of Pakistan are behind the Mumbai attacks."
While inaugurating the CMs' conference on January 6 Dr Singh had said, "During the past year, we faced a severe challenge from terrorist groups operating from outside our country. Many of them act in association with hostile intelligence agencies in these countries. The attempt has been to exploit our vulnerabilities, and at times they do succeed as is evident from the terrorist attacks in Mumbai. Our problems are compounded by the fact that we have a highly unpredictable and uncertain security environment in our immediate neighbourhood. The governments in some of our neighbouring countries are very fragile in nature. The more fragile a government, the more it tends to act in an irresponsible fashion. Pakistan's response to our various demarches on terrorist attacks is an obvious example."
Interestingly, the source said, Defense Minister Ahmed Mukhtar seems to be a threat to Gilani. "In the coming 3-4 months a major tussle may be witnessed in the civil government but the army's grip on important issues will remain firm. The Pakistan army calls the shot," he added firmly.
He further elaborated that in Pakistan the issues of Afghanistan, nuclear arsenals, Kashmir, India (separate since the last few years from Kashmir) and arms purchases have always been exclusively with the army, and that India doesn't see a change in that policy. The current tensions in Islamabad [Images] have some similarities between the 1971 and 1989 political situation when the Pakistan army had turned quite unpopular. They retreated from the scene when their image was bad, only to come back. The Mumbai attacks are seen in New Delhi as the Pakistan army's attempt to "unite the public" behind a so-called national crisis so that the army can resurrect its "usefulness" for the nation.
He said, "I can tell you that nobody has told India to maintain restraint. You can go through the statements of dignitaries who have visited New Delhi."
He said, "You can't move the army to the border and ask them to play basketball to keep fit." He thought this could be very demoralising. He said India is quite aware of the US designs in the region.
"America's focus is on the nuclear weapons and Al Qaeda [Images], Afghanistan and, third, they are scared of Pakistan. India also can't be comfortable with such a disturbed neighbourhood. In some respects, seen from the US presence in Afghanistan, Pakistan is also a neighbour for America."
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