Union home minister Amit Shah on Thursday referred to the 2016 surgical strikes conducted across the Line of Control (LoC), the de facto border between India and Pakistan in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K), and said that those showed that the era of talks was over and that of “a fitting response”, started.
India carried out the strikes in September 2016 by sending special forces to pre-empt more attacks from across the LoC days after 19 soldiers were killed after infiltrators crossed over from the Pakistani territory and attacked an Indian Army camp in Kashmir.
Shah cited the strikes and said that for years, attackers from across the border would come and cause carnage. “But from the leadership in the Delhi durbars, there was no decision forthcoming,” he added, after laying the foundation stone for the National Forensic Sciences University’s Goa campus. He added that the surgical strikes were conducted under Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s leadership and during Manohar Parrikar’s tenure as defence minister for the first time when there was an attack and Indian soldiers were killed along the border. “…For the first time, we told the world that it was not without consequence that you can attack India’s borders.”
To be sure, there was also a local context to the comment. The late Parrikar was Goa’s most popular chief minister, and elections in the state are due next year, with the Bharatiya Janata Party, which is in power, facing significant anti-incumbency.
Shah’s reference to the strikes came days after five soldiers were killed in an exchange of fire with heavily armed terrorists in a forested area at Surankote in J&K’s Poonch district on Monday amid a spike in violence in the region. To be sure, Shah did not make any reference to the current context.
The home minister’s comments are seen by analysts as an indication of his government’s resolve to not let terrorists and separatist forces gain the upper hand in the region where it hopes to conduct elections by next summer.
The home minister said the message that India retaliates when attacked from across the border will stick around for generations, restoring the country’s pride in the sanctity of its frontiers. “A new era was established in which no sooner they asked us questions from across the border, we gave them a fitting response.”
In 2019, after terrorists carried out a suicide bombing attack on a Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) convoy in Pulwama, India responded with an airstrike on a terror camp inside Pakistan.
Shah also credited Parrikar, who passed away in 2019, for finalising the One Rank One Pension (OROP) scheme under which armed forces personnel retiring in the same rank with the same length of service get the uniform pension, regardless of their date of retirement. He added that it brought much relief to the soldiers guarding the borders.
Shah said soldiers could rest easy that their families will be well-taken care of after the finalisation of the scheme.
He added that Parrikar will always be remembered for OROP as well as the surgical strikes.
“The former defence minister will be remembered for two things. Under the leadership of (PM Narendra) Modi, he did something that no one could do prior to him. (He) gave the OROP to the three services. Today, the jawans, who spend the best years of their lives under conditions ranging from -43 degrees Celsius to 43-degree Celsius, are now confident that their families will be taken care of,” said Shah, who is on a two-day visit to poll-bound Goa.
Sameer Patil, fellow for international security studies at Gateway House, said that apart from political rhetoric, India’s tit-for-tat responses since 2016 have forced Pakistan to rethink its strategy of using cross-border terrorism.
“I don’t buy the line that the time for talks is over because we have seen much reporting on back-channel contacts between India and Pakistan, even though there is ambiguity on its current status. But it is clear that India’s response to terror attacks by Pakistan-based groups has definitely changed,” he said.
Shah also interacted with the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party’s state leadership ahead of the elections that are due early next year.