By Prarthana Mitra
Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Friday inaugurated an exhibition at the Jodhpur Military Station to commemorate the second anniversary of the ‘surgical strike’ across the Line of Control (LOC). The exhibition showcased the army’s achievements during the strike.
Last week, the Centre announced its intent to celebrate the day as National Surgical Strike Day. The forward airbase on the western border was chosen this year for its strategic importance. The exhibition ‘Parakarm Parv’, which preceded the Combined Commanders’ Conference, commemorates the armed forces’ might and “contribution in nation-building“, said defence spokesperson Col Sombit Ghosh in a statement.
Here’s what happened
The cross-border operation was carried out to avenge the deaths of 19 Indian soldiers who were killed in Uri, Kashmir, by Pakistani militant groups on September 18, 2016. On September 29, the Indian Army orchestrated an attack on multiple terror camps in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir and destroyed terror launch pads.
To mark two years of the surgical strikes, the government has planned elaborate celebrations at 53 locations in 51 cities. The conference that was held alongside the exhibition saw Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman and National Security Advisor Ajit Doval in attendance, besides several key military and civil officials from the defence ministry.
Indian armed forces that day proved to the world that there is a very clear way to show our strength that we will not tolerate terrorists entering and creating havoc or even think of creating havoc: Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on #SurgicalStrike pic.twitter.com/UnAz7QWLY9
— ANI (@ANI) September 28, 2018
Fresh videos of the surgical strikes were also released to ratchet up national pride.
— ANI (@ANI) September 27, 2018
The ground reality
However, according to some media reports, the government seems to be glorifying what are essentially failures, because insurgency and firing at the LoC has increased four folds since the strike and infiltration continues unabated. According to LiveMint, there were 358 insurgency-related fatalities in 2017, compared to 267 the year before; estimated infiltrations increased to 406 in 2017 from 371 in 2016; and civilian deaths increased by 166% in 2017.
Army Chief General Bipin Rawat told The Tribune that “the strikes were a message that we will not hesitate to cross (the LoC). Despite that (strikes), infiltration continues and violence is being fanned in the Valley”.
But strong messages like these have only served to sour relations with Pakistan. The border witnessed an increase in tension and violence for the first time since the ceasefire in 2003, and exchange of fire occurs often and at the slightest instigation.
Even more alarming is the fact that terror camps in PoK have begun appearing on India’s defence radar again, even as Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan was making reconciliatory overtures to his Indian counterpart. This implies that support for terrorist groups has ramped up under the tutelage of Pakistani military and government. According to the Times of India, approximately 250 terrorists are now waiting to infiltrate into Jammu and Kashmir from 27 launch pads in PoK. Eight new launch pads have sprung up, including one in Lipa Valley, which was targeted by the 2016 surgical strike.
Earlier this week, Rawat had also suggested that another surgical strike should be conducted on terror launch pads across the LoC, after three Indian soldiers were shot dead by the Hizbul Mujahideen last week.
With bilateral peace talks taking a backseat once again, it is time to evaluate the real ramifications and consequences of such strikes, and if these “victories” bode well for India’s own security. More importantly, celebrating surgical strikes for offering instinctive gratification more than peace, endangers the sacrosanctity of the LoC, whose significance in protecting the stalemate is enormous and steadily diminishing.
Prarthana Mitra is a staff writer at Qrius.