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'The so-called surgical strikes are not easy'

Last updated on: January 12, 2009 19:22 IST
"We see Pakistan as an irresponsible country. It was not advisable to resort to any kind of military retaliation after the attacks on Mumbai. India is a responsible country and we take care of our people's lives more than anything else," says a senior advisor who is an integral part of the policy-making machinery in the Government of India.

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 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 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 dismisses any comparison to Israel's action with India's action or lack of action against terrorism. He said, "The Palestine people are being attacked by Israel but the Palestine people don't even have proper pistols. They have nothing but their people to offer! Pakistan has a proper army. We care for our people's lives. There are many options to win the game. War is not the only option."

However, without elaborating further, he said after the Mumbai attacks India has conducted reasonably good -- but not "excellent" -- diplomacy. He conceded that Pakistan has been able to differentiate between terrorism and war. Pakistan's idea behind its current diplomacy is to bring in a third party, some credible interlocutor, to settle the issues between the two countries. But, the senior source in government cynically dismissed the idea of any interlocutor on the issue of Kashmir. He said with confidence that India is not bothered about such issues and can manage it.
 
The source, while continuing the conversations about the diplomatic and other options before New Delhi, said the PMO must have some gameplan to manage the diplomatic response to the Mumbai attacks but that he is not privy to it.

He said, "Pakistan is rattled to hear Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's 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."

The senior officer told rediff.com, "We have no doubt that the Pakistan army is in control of important issues as they have always been. There is a tussle going on between President Asif Zardari and Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani and the latter seems to be weaker because, technically speaking, the PM doesn't have as much power as the president."

The issue of the sacking of NSA Mahmud Ali Durrani was Gilani's attempt to assert himself but, Durrani had already lost his weight before he was sacked. He was no longer a key player when he was sacked.

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 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.
 
A senior officer also discussed America and the talk of pressures on India to maintain restraint in in its response to the Mumbai attacks. He says, "India understands well that nobody would fight your battle. You have to fight your own battle."

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 Operation Parakram, held during the NDA regime in response to the attack on Parliament, didn't serve the purpose except that India could hold assembly elections in Jammu and Kashmir in 2002.

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, 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."

When asked if General Pervez Kiyani is amenable to the American agenda for the region, a source with deep understanding of Pakistan said, "I understand that the Pakistan army is not in tune with the US on Afghanistan. At the same time, Americans will make noises but will not be able to cut substantially the economic aid to Pakistan."

Talking about American President-elect Barack Obama, the source said, "India is not worried about Kashmir. What we think is that on CTBT, FMCT, WTO and on climate change, many times greater pressure would come. We expect Obama to be on the fast track on these issues. Obama's Iran policy would change only on paper. Terms like 'Axis of Evil' will go away but the pressures from Jewish and other lobbies will remain."

Sheela Bhatt in New Delhi