Even as many political leaders and a previous NSA claimed credit for previous covert operation against Pakistan, Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar stirred a hornet’s nest against on Wednesday that no surgical strikes were conducted in the past and the credit for the September 29 strikes in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir should go to the Indian Army and citizens of the country He said the army’s next response may or may not be surgical since the element of “unpredictability” in tactics keeps the enemy guessing. He said the strikes were the result of a decision taken by the government of the day and it should be “cheered” for that.
This may reignite the oppositions’ ire which has been feeling like a pack of losers ever since the incident took place. AAP, the permanent grievance monger, said the BJP was trying to encash the issue for the forthcoming UP elections. It demanded that a sedition charge be filed against Parrikar for having compared the Army with Lord Hunuman.
Former NSA Shiv Shankar Menon, whom the Armed Forces accused during the UPA 2 regime of breathing down over their neck and prevented them from retaliatory action against Pakistan even when a soldier, Hemraj, was beheaded, claimed in an interview with the Hindu that there were several operations during his tenure but they were not advertised because they were not targeted at domestic constituencies. Army sources strongly refuted the claim of Menon and said he used the services of a retired officer to even ‘destroy the morale of our forces. For instance, a Major’s career was sought to be ruined by the NSA and his military adviser because of the retaliatory action he had taken against Pakistanis. Too frequently, Pakistani soldiers jibed and told Indian soldiers that they could not take any action against them because they would not be allowed.” “It was a shameful situation,” said an army officer.
“We need surgical strikes but our next response need not be by way of a surgical strike. There should be unpredictability in response. Otherwise, the enemy can study your pattern and prepare its strategy,” Parrikar said at an event in Mumbai.
Referring to Opposition criticism that the BJP was trying to take credit for the strikes, the Defence Minister said: “The credit for the surgical strikes goes to the Army and 127 crores Indian citizens. We don’t take credit for the surgical strikes. However, it is the government that takes decisions and such a government should be cheered.”
Describing the current situation “better than 2013”, Parrikar credited Prime Minister Narendra Modi for securing the borders. “I should say that the national borders are much more secure under the leadership of the Prime Minister.”
“Prime Minister Modi tried to patch up with Pakistan. He extended a hand of friendship but it was construed by many as a weakness of this government. What we did on September 29 was to tell our adversaries that we are not weak,” he said.
Rejecting claims of surgical strikes carried out under previous governments, Parrikar said: “I have been holding this portfolio for two years now. To my knowledge, there were no surgical strikes in the past… It is possible that there were a few actions by border security forces, which could be local actions. Those actions can at best be called covert operations where the action was taken first and the government informed later. But the September 29 strikes were a result of a government decision. This was a single, one-time operation.”
Without naming anyone, Parrikar refuted the claims made by several leaders and a previous NSA. He said “some may be true, but many seem exaggerated. Those could be local covert actions taken by local commanders against the neighbouring local commander. These are conveyed to the government once they are over. In this case, the decision for the surgical strike was taken by the government and the Army executed it. But it was not a political decision. Had it been so, the Prime Minister would have announced it. But it is the Army which disclosed it,” he said.
On the ongoing row about alleged ‘chest-thumping’ over the military action and the Opposition questioning the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party’s attempt to claim political credit, Parrikar said only the armed forces and people of India who stood behind them could claim credit for it. “I am one of the citizens of India and can take credit only as such,” he said. Accepting shortcomings in intelligence inputs after the Pathankot and Uri attacks, Parrikar said that to err is human.
“Have you ever seen 100% perfect intelligence? These non-state actors plan 10 attacks and succeed in one. They crave for the hype they receive. Publicity is their oxygen. If media stops reporting about stone-pelters (in Kashmir) 75% incidents will stop,” Parrikar said. He added that he saw no reason in removing AFSPA from some States. “I don’t think this Act is bad. Show me a single example of human rights violation in my tenure. Whenever there are small incidents, they have been dealt with. The Act is simple: Don’t touch civilians, but if you see a civilian with a gun, don’t treat him as a civilian,” he said.
On the strikes across the Line of Control, Parrikar said he did not sleep for three nights ahead of the operations. “During the operations, I kept my mobile phone away, just to ensure that if it is compromised, nobody eavesdrops on important conversations. I mostly switch off my phone during important meetings but one can even bug the battery of your phone and listen to your conversations.”
Asked about his biggest challenge, Parrikar said it was dealing with scams of the past. On the procurement policy and the limited cartel of supplies, it offers, Parrikar said: “There are 18 major companies that supply defence equipment. If we add their cross-holding companies, then this number will rise to 40. If one cross-subsidiary is embroiled in some scam and if we keep banning all of them, then we won’t have a supplier to go to.”
On self-reliance in Defence, Parrikar said it is an imaginary goal. “In small items, we could. But for big equipment, an overall system is developed through supplies from various countries. But in the process, even if we become self-reliant 75 per cent, it is a good achievement,” he said. Asked if the Defence budget was less than what was needed, he said: “I don’t think money will be a constraint for procuring anything. But I am not in favour of wasteful expenditure. For the first time, we have prepared a graph that projects requirements until 2027.”