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Earlier cross-LoC strikes had different goals: former NSA

Former National Security Adviser Shiv Shankar Menon

Former National Security Adviser Shiv Shankar Menon  

Operations across the Line of Control (LoC) were not publicised in the past, before the > September 28 strikes, because they were not aimed at domestic constituencies, former National Security Adviser Shiv Shankar Menon has said. However, in the first comments made by a senior member of the UPA Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) on the issue, Mr. Menon also said he had no regrets about not announcing previous strikes, as they had different “goals” in mind.

“Covert operations were not announced to the country because the primary goal was to pacify the LoC and cut down infiltration and ceasefire violations, not to manage public opinion at home. By keeping operations covert rather than overt, it was made possible for the Pakistan Army to climb down and for a temporary peace to be re-established,“ Mr. Menon said in written replies to The Hindu.

Mr. Menon’s remarks are significant as the controversy around the government’s decision to announce cross-LoC strikes by the Army, grows. On September 29, the DG of Military Operations Lt. Gen. Ranbir Singh announced at a press conference that Army commandos had carried out a number of “surgical strikes” “along the Line of Control” inflicting significant damage on terror launch pads in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK).

In a series of background briefings since then, senior officials of the government including National Security Adviser Ajit Doval and Foreign Secretary S. Jaishankar have expanded on details of the operations, making it clear that they involved teams of commandos crossing over the LoC by foot, and killing terrorists in the “double digits” on the other side, in strikes carried out in “self-defence.”

Meanwhile, Cabinet Ministers and BJP leaders have hailed the strikes as a “first”, with > Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar claiming credit for “empowering the Army like Hanuman was.”

Asked if he had any regrets about not publicising the cross-LoC operations like Operation Ginger in 2011 during his tenure, which was reported by The Hindu this week, Mr. Menon said, “No. As I said, the decision to go public or not depends on the outcome you seek and the best way to achieve it.”

Uri and after

Mr. Menon said the response to the Uri attack “had been handled as well as can be expected,” and was possibly necessitated by a sharp increase in ceasefire violations, infiltration attempts, and attacks by terrorists from Pakistan in the past 18 months compared to the decade following the 2003 ceasefire that was announced by Pakistan’s former President Pervez Musharraf and India’s former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. Compared to 1,373 infiltration attempts in 2003, figures had reduced to about 277 in 2013.

However, while the government had detected about 222 and 121 attempts for the years 2014 and 2015, according to figures released by the Ministry of Home Affairs in Parliament this year, Home Minister Rajnath Singh admitted there had been a sharp rise in both infiltration bids, and violence over the LoC in 2016. In particular, since the protests in the Kashmir Valley began, police sources said there has been a 33% increase in infiltration bids, with nearly 20 attempts in which 24 militants were killed in July and August alone.

“The overall bilateral strategic framework of restraint has been preserved while tactically an attempt has been made to restore deterrence on the line, which has obviously broken down, judging by the spate of ceasefire violations and Pakistan-based terrorist attacks on India in the last year and a half,” Mr. Menon said.

Mr. Menon, who was earlier India’s High Commissioner to Pakistan, and Foreign Secretary before he became the NSA (2011-2014), said the term “surgical strikes” was a misnomer for the cross-LoC attacks, as it was a “cold war era” term that referred specifically to operations aimed at taking out the leadership of an adversary.

“What we and Pakistan have been doing is not [surgical strikes], and the use of the term leads to confused thinking about cause and effect. What we have been doing is tactical, covert (until now), and is designed to keep or restore the peace on the line...”he said.

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