It is twenty years since Kargil, where our valiant soldiers fought in the toughest of conditions to defeat an enemy that had challenged our might and regain what was rightfully ours. The fact that our intelligence agencies failed, and the army was lax in its initial actions in no way impacted the performance of the battalions which participated in the assaults and those who supported them with firepower. This year while we salute their bravery, their indomitable spirit and their determination to win against all odds, it is also time to reflect on the change in the nation’s philosophy and outlook.
India till the Kargil war and even a decade beyond had a defensive mindset. The national leadership during Kargil was unwilling to expand the conflict beyond the LoC, while the armed forces remained deployed for any contingency.
This was because of many reasons. The primary was nagging fear of Pakistan’s nuclear threat, the second was possible lack of international support especially as Pakistan remained in focus due to international involvement in Afghanistan, the third was shortfalls in basic ammunition holding and finally, the shadow of Bofors that had prevented the armed forces from developing military power needed to push a strong offensive across the border.
Indo-Pak relations have always been dominated by Pakistan’s support to terrorism in the valley and launching suicide attacks deep within the country. Despite Mumbai and Parliament attacks there was no military response. The armed forces were mobilized after the Parliament attack, then withdrawn. India expected the world to intercede on its behalf, which never happened.
Each of these actions only made Pakistan bolder in its outlook. Finally, realization dawned that our approach and policies had to change. The nation would have to assert itself, if it sought peace while resolving the Kashmir imbroglio.
Pathankot was the turning point. The invitation to the Pakistani investigation team and its briefing in Delhi was aimed at sending a message. Act before it is too late; India will not tolerate any more such strikes. Pakistan challenged the Indian message with Uri in 2016.
There had to be a response and it was given by the surgical strike across the border targeting terrorist camps located close to the LoC. Pakistan rushed into denial mode, desperate to preserve the power of its military. The nation and the world were aware that India had struck back and sent a warning. It also indicated that India was willing to escalate. National pride swelled in India. India had now grown out of its defensive mode and was willing to exert every element of power backed by military power to make Pakistan behave.
While there were standoffs with the Chinese earlier, these were resolved in a peaceful manner. Rarely was there any physical contact and even if it did happen, it was never placed in the public domain. Everything changed with Doklam in 2017.
The Doklam standoff lasted over two months in full international glare. It was beamed across the nation. The Indian forces refused to be cowed down and stood their ground against the Chinese. It had the propensity to escalate, however the soldiers involved in the standoff and their Commanding Officers displayed maturity in their behaviour. Like the Kargil conflict, it was diplomacy which led the way to resolving the crises. The army did what it was supposed to, hold the fort and open doors for a diplomatic solution.
Once the embers of the initial surgical strike had died down, Pakistan again decided to challenge Indian authority in Kashmir, by enabling its dedicated terrorist agencies to launch Pulwama. It thought the surgical strike was a one-off incident. Pakistan, expecting a similar surgical strike, redeployed its forces and removed terrorist camps from close to the border. It was in for a surprise.
The decision to target Balakote implied openly challenging Pakistan to a conflict. The government was seeking to send a strong message yet avoiding civilian casualties. Balakote was beyond POK, the accepted conflict zone, as the LoC remains a temporary line. The army chief in his interaction with the Prime Minister stated that the army is ready for war, in case Pakistan decided to escalate. He had even suggested opening the IB theatre. The navy, anticipating a Pakistani response, had moved its fleet, prepared for any eventuality.
Pakistan again stepped back. It hid its losses, closed Balakote for two months while it disposed of the dead and shut its airspace for almost six months in panic. Simultaneously, Indian army opened the LoC, responding hard to Pakistani attempts at ceasefire violations, punishing its posts with intense artillery fire every time it attempted infiltration. Pakistan finally got the message of the Indian military’s aggressive approach.
Since Balakote, terrorism in Kashmir has begun receding. Infiltration is down to a trickle as Indian response has grown stronger. Pakistani support to the Hurriyat is almost negligible. Valleybased political parties are in disarray. The government now has the power to change what was till now considered off limits.
For seven decades, Indians had been falsely charged as being spies and incarcerated in Pakistani jails. Some like Sarabjit died in Pakistani prison due to brutality. India only objected to Pak’s actions and let its citizens remain in Pakistani prisons. Those who were returned were mentally damaged, yet there was silence.
For the first time the government moved the International Court of Justice (ICJ) against Pak in the Kulbhushan Jadhav case. It was another indicator of an assertive India. The judgement proved that India can and will protect its citizens across the globe.
Diplomatically India is pushing where its interest matters. It is challenging existing status quos and displaying its diplomatic prowess.
This changing face of the nation is clearly visible twenty years after Kargil. India’s growing economic and military power has every country seeking to partner its military and enhance trade relations. This is the new India willing to assert its rights and push against those who seek to challenge it.