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'With Pak even a spark can set off something'

December 13, 2021 08:32 IST

'After Uri, the current government took public ownership of surgical strikes.'
'The question they need to ask themselves is did this bring about a change in Pakistan's behaviour towards us?'
'The answer is no.'
'If there had been a change, then Pulwama would not have happened.'

IMAGE: Indian Army soldiers at the site of the suicide bomb attack at Lathepora Awantipora in Pulwama district in south Kashmir, which killed 40 Central Reserve Police Force personnel, February 14, 2019. Photograph: Umar Ganie/

Manish Tiwari, a member of Parliament in his latest book Ten Flashpoints; 20 Years National Security Situations That Impacted India looks at key security situations that have impacted India and examines India's responses to it.

"If Pakistan decided to attack an army base or hit a civilian population centre, would we have been compelled to retaliate?", Tiwari asks Senior Contributor Rashme Sehgal. The concluding segment of an exclusive two-part interview:


Prime Minister Modi has refused to acknowledge that the Chinese have entered and grabbed out territory.
This at a time when we have satellite pictures confirming what is happening on the ground. Nothing is hidden.

There is a fundamental problem with the narrative of muscular nationalism which the BJP have espoused for ten long years when they were in opposition, They have become victims of their own rhetoric.

We saw that playing itself out in Galwan. It is astounding that the prime minister got up and said the Chinese did not enter our territory in Galwan.

This begs the question that if the Chinese had not entered our territory, then did our troops enter Chinese territory when that melee took place and that resulted in the loss of our officers and soldiers?

This government by its conduct has sent out a message to our enemies that as long as these people can reach out to a domestic audience, they do not care about facts on the ground.

Your book has highlighted how ISI officials were allowed to enter our airbase in Pathankot. Why were the ISI functionaries allowed to enter our airbase? What was the thinking of the government at that time?

I think the government was very embarrassed by the prime minister's visit to Pakistan to attend Nawaz Sharif's grand-daughter's wedding which was followed up by the Pathankot attack.

But if they look at the trajectory of India-Pakistan relations during the past two decades, whenever there is an attempt to normalise relations, it is followed up by a spectacular attack.

It should have been anticipated that there would be a retaliation by those forces which are inimical to any understanding between our two nations.

But what was really bizarre was to allow the ISI to come and inspect their own handiwork. This is something which has never been explained.

When 26/11 took place, you were an active member of the Congress. Why did the Manmohan Singh government not strike back? What prevented the government from retaliating?

I was a spokesperson of the Congress.

The quintessential dilemma that has been plaguing the Indian establishment which goes all the way back to 1980 when Pakistan operationalised its philosophy of bleeding India with a thousand cuts by employing non State actors is the extent to which we can use conventional force against non State actors.

And if we do use force, how do you calibrate it so it does not end up in an unending escalatory spiral?

This dilemma continues to remain unresolved.

After Uri, the current government took public ownership of surgical strikes.

The question they need to ask themselves is did this bring about a change in Pakistan's behaviour towards us? The answer is no.

If there had been a change, then Pulwama would not have happened and Jaish-e-Mohammad would not have taken responsibility for Pulwama.

That dilemma was omnipresent during 26/11 and remains the central question even today.

India will have to resolve it because Pakistan has not stopped resorting to the use of non State actors.

IMAGE: The Mirage 2000 aircraft used in the strikes on the Jaish-e-Mohammed terror camp in Balakot, Pakistan.

We are both nuclear powers. When Balakot took place, was this something was factored in by our government?

Given the fact that we live in a nuclearised neighbourhood, there is always a theoretical possibility that a limited conventional war can escalate once the dynamics of action and reaction come into play.

Suppose Pakistan had decided not to return Wing Commander Abhinandan, where would that have left us? Or for that matter, let us presume that Pakistan decided to attack an army base or hit a civilian population centre, would we have been compelled to retaliate?

And so therefore given the action reaction dynamic along with the fact that these two countries seldom talk to each other, in such a tense stand-off, even a spark can set off something.

At one point, Dr Manmohan Singh was willing to put his government at stake over the passing of the nuclear treaty with the United States. In retrospect, was it worth it ?

The deal was never about nuclear energy, it was always about breaking nuclear apartheid.

It was about ensuring sanctions that had been put in place post our tests in 1974, which were made more stringent in 1998, be lifted.

India had to become part of the new nuclear order and become recognised as a nuclear State.

Even the US was very clear eyed about it, that is why when the nuclear energy aspect of it fell through, given all the riders that were put into it, there was not much of a song and dance about it.

Your book highlights how at a crucial juncture Operation Parakram, the core commander of Strike Two Corps Lieutenant General Kapil Vij was removed.
It was obviously done at the behest of the Americans. Why did the Vajpayee government fall in line?

You are absolutely spot on and that is actually one of themes of the book.

Whenever India exercises restraint, Pakistan has perceived it as an act of weakness and not because India has acted out of magnanimity.

And that is because the nature of the Indian State is very different from that of the Pakistan State.

Pakistan is a very hard State, it is a quasi-military State.

Pakistan can never appreciate the magnanimity that is intrinsic to democracy.

And that is why the NDA BJP government under foreign pressure, given that the Americans were in Afghanistan in a big way, decided to tranfer the second strike force commander Lieutenant General Kapil Vij at the very beginning of the Operation Parakram mobilisation.

This sent out a signal to Pakistanis that we were not interested in pushing the envelope.

As far as Pakistan was concerned, that was the day that Operation Parakram was over.

Feature Presentation: Aslam Hunani/