Distance of 2-3 km is not small when you are in enemy territory, says Col Lalit Raihttps://indianexpress.com/article/india/india-news-india/surgical-strikes-india-pakistan-col-lalit-rai-3069381/

Distance of 2-3 km is not small when you are in enemy territory, says Col Lalit Rai

During an Idea Exchange at The Indian Express office, Kargil hero and Vir Chakra recipient Col Lalit Rai (Retd) talks about the concept of surgical strikes, military preparedness and the geopolitical logic behind the regional conflict. He also reflects upon India’s preparedness with anti-missile systems.

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Col Lalit Rai (Retd) at an Idea Exchange programme at The Indian Express.

MANOJ MORE: How do you define surgical strikes?

If a body has tumour, how is it removed? It is done so with various surgical methods or radiation. It means whatever be the target-the tumor in the body or in this case the terrorist camps-it has to be removed without causing any damage to the rest of the body or surroundings. Hence, the soldiers are sent to a specific point either by helicopter or by secret routes without causing any damage on the way. The militants are targeted, and you exfiltrate troops without causing any collateral damage. Now, the exfiltration is tricky here, as the element of surprise, which is there at the time of attack, is now lost. So, others in the team divert the attention of the main target by striking the smaller targets while the troops come back.

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MANOJ MORE: This involves crossing the border or LoC…


Yes it does. People have gone across even in the past and have hit targets. But in this case, there are differences. First, the very dynamic nature of the targets. They keep moving. If militants have been launched from one camp today, the same will not be used again. Also the size of targets, the level of support, the number of troops, the depth to which the troops have entered is of a different level in this case. We have done it in Myanmar of late. The distance of two to three kilometre is not small when you are in the enemy territory. It is through minefields, barbed wire, obstacles and enemy vigil.

ANURADHA MASCARENHAS: It is being said that political mileage is being taken by the Modi government out of this?

The government said they would do it and they have done it. The due credit must be given. Personally, one may not be happy or agree with so many things the government does, but on this subject, we need to be objective. The government declared it, gave a mandate to the Army and followed through while the Army delivered it. It takes guts for that. Things could have gone wrong.

MANOJ MORE: What do you make of certain parties like Congress to AAP raising questions?

It is stupid. When the announcement has been made, it is at the level of the Director General of Military Operations. He is the most important man as far as the military operations are concerned, the country must trust him. The Army is not a political party. Every army action is an extension of the political will of the country’s democratic leadership. The Army will never take arbitrary or unilateral action. We are an Army of a democratic country.

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SUSHANT KULKARNI: Can you give us an outline of the preparations that are required for such strikes?

When the war is not on, we are constantly preparing ourselves through war-gaming exercises. We are constantly studying theories, maps, terrain, weather, enemy tactics, satellite images etc. We rehearse every day. Like they say, sweat during training avoids blood during war. We have hundreds of contingencies for battle scenarios. The strike, like the latest one, needs months of preparation. But because of years of preparation, we could do it in within two-three days, when the nation needed it and the leader gave the mandate for it. When you are entering the enemy territory, even one small mistake, even one of their sentry being aware of your presence can jeopardise the operation. So you can imagine how much was at stake.

SUNANDA MEHTA: Do you think the answer is going to end this? Because the rhetoric and thumping continues. Do you, as an Army man, think this will escalate into something bigger?

We teach our men that when you target the enemy, don’t target his physical form, his posts or position, target his mind. If you kill the enemy’s mind, the war is over. But to kill his mind, we have to do something spectacular. So today, when we are dealing with Pakistan, we are only treating the symptom. We are not treating the disease. The symptom is Pakistan and the disease is China.

GARIMA MISHRA: Some politicians are demanding that the footage of the surgical strike be made public. What’s your opinion?

If you will keep reacting to the propaganda, there’s no end to it. It should be made public but now is not the right time. It should be made public at the right time, in a right way. Don’t react to the propaganda now because if you start reacting to what Kejriwal and others, you will actually give in to the propaganda.

ANURADHA MASCARENHAS: Can you elaborate on China’s role?

The larger interest of China is supremacy in the region. But the real reason is economic. Its large part is landlocked, except the South China Sea. So they came up with the grand idea of CPEC– China Pakistan Economic Corridor. It is from the Xinjiang region in China to the Gwadar port in Pakistan. That gives them access to Arabian Sea. All the oil from Middle East will come in here. And at one-sixth the distance, consider what tremendous economic advantage they will get. China is already exploiting resources from almost half of Africa. All those resources can now come to them at a very low cost. Today, they have to take a long sea route. CPEC is a grand idea but here there are issues. It comes through the mountain ranges through Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir, a region held by Pakistan belonging to India, hence, the dispute. It goes down to Gwadar port, through Balochistan, which is a problem for Pakistan. That is why China is stopping our bid for security council, China is supporting Pakistan. Other big issue is the South China Sea, where they are currently receiving the resources from Africa, and the route passes through the sea choke point. There is theory that the world controlled by the choke points. One of them is the Malacca Strait, which is between Sumatra and Malaysia. China wants to control these routes by expanding its naval influence and the US does not want this to happen.

So the countries in this area, which were earlier peaceful, are now militarising. So it is a geopolitical game, it is about strategy, positioning and control. What we have with Pakistan is one issue that will arise from this geopolitical game. In politics, there are no permanent friends and in diplomacy, no enemies – the only thing permanent remains national interest. It’s the same with the US. Today, we are convenient; we are good friends for them. But sometime ago, it was Pakistan.

SUSHANT KULKARNI: There has been some infrastructure development and military upgrading in the Eastern theatre along the border with China. Where do we stand as compared to China when it comes to military power?

Their defence spending is three times ours. Their force much larger but so is their area. Another important issue with China is the Aksai Chin. It constitutes about eight per cent of the total area of Jammu and Kashmir on the east side. Back in 1949-50 China attacked and occupied the peaceful country Tibet, which shared boundaries with India. Hardly, anyone made a noise. But now, to reach Tibet they have made a road through Aksai Chin, which is considered to be an engineering marvel, can reach Tibet by road and railroad.

CHANDAN HAYGUNDE: Now after the surgical strike and India having given a message to Pakistan, do you think Pakistan will stop the terror activities or escalate them? Are we prepared for such terror strikes?

I would like to point one thing out. Internal security is not just the duty of military, paramilitary forces or police. It is also the responsibility of people. A terrorist striking within our country, cannot survive without local support. Every citizen has to be responsible enough to make sure that they do not get local support. So it’s not just the Army or police, it’s every person’s duty to make sure that terrorists do not get local support in terms of money, logistics or even people actually helping them.

SUNANDA MEHTA: How can we tackle the issue of terrorists getting local support from local villagers along the border?

That support is not very big but a small proportion of the population keeps making noise. There are other people who do not want to support the terrorists or separatists. Some people do it because of threats to their life. Terrorists come with guns, torture women in front of family members. And why are separatist leaders supported by our own politicians?

CHANDAN HAYGUNDE: There is a debate on whether to allow Pakistani artistes in India. What is your take on it?

Why just art, humanity too has no boundaries. But there are sentiments which are running high. There are people who are dying at the border. I believe, our fundamental rights have limits and that is the sovereignty of the nation. Sometimes, I feel our nation has been too much of a
soft state. This softness is at times misunderstood as weakness. So this surgical strike has proved to some extent that we are not weak.

GARIMA MISHRA: Is it the first time that the Army has got such strong support from the Central government?

To a large extent, yes. Though I have not witnessed what support they have got but from whatever I have seen and observed, I feel yes, they have got a strong support from the Central government. However, I feel that in circumstances such as these, Army officials are made ‘in-charge’. But once the work is done, his presence is questioned. There’s an old poem which says, ‘In times of war and not before/God and the soldier we adore/But in times of peace and all things righted/God is forgotten and the soldier slighted.’

MANOJ MORE: There is also a threat of nuclear arms? How do you look at it?

Have you heard about the air defence systems like Pradyumna and Ashwin. These are anti-missile systems. When a missile fired from an enemy country, there are radars which detect them, command and control is activated and then these air defence systems are launched to destroy the missile midair. India has signed the no-first-use treaty, Pakistan has not.

MANOJ MORE: Tell us your Kargil story.

They had captured a mountain in the Batalik sector and we had to get back the centre point of it. We were being fired upon every day.


Advancing even an inch was not possible. That was the time when I volunteered on behalf of my battalion. I did not know, whether I would come back alive. I took 600 people with me and decided to attack from behind. We passed through intense fire, -32 degrees temperature, heavy snowfall, extreme altitude. Every time a soldier was hit, I would put him on my lap and say sorry, and that I have to move ahead. By the time we reached there, there were eight of us and the rest were left behind or died. No sleep, no water no food. We fought for three nights and four days. My general officer asked me to return, because even I had a bullet injury. But I refused to do so. We finally managed to capture the point and others back. After this, people ask why does one join the Army, it saddens me.

(Transcribed by Sushant Kulkarni)