Lt General (retired) D S Hooda, who was the Northern Army Commander in September 2016 when Indian troops carried out surgical strikes on terror launch pads along the Line of Control in the wake of the Uri attack, Friday said the “overhype” of the strikes did not help and “it is not good” when “military operations get politicised”.
Moderating a discussion on the ‘Role of Cross-Border Operations and Surgical Strikes’ at the ongoing Military Literature Festival, Hooda said following the surgical strikes, there were accusations that the issue had been politicised, that there was an “attempt to keep a purely military operation in the political domain by selective leaks of videos, photographs etc”.
“Did the overhype help? I say, completely no. If you start having political resonance in military operations, it is not good. There was too much political banter, on both sides, and when military operations get politicised, that is not good,” he said. On the possibility of the strikes impacting the thought process of decision-makers in future operations, the former Army Commander said “if you hype a successful operation, then even success has its burden”.
“Will we think next time (what) if there are casualties? Because it has been so overhyped, will it impose caution on leadership? What happens if it does not have the same level of success? It may impose some caution in future. If we had done it quietly, it would have been much better,” he said.
Responding to remarks from panelists that the strikes were purely tactical in nature with short-term goals and of no strategic value to deter the Pakistan Army from backing future terror attacks, Hooda said: “When we were planning it, there was no thought in our mind that Pakistan will stop doing Uri-like incidents. At least in the Northern Command, there was simplicity of purpose. For us, it was very simple,” he said.
He said ever since 2013-end, terrorists had been coming from across the LoC to attack Army installations in Samba, Hiranagar, Janglote, Pathankot and Uri. “Since July 2016, Army had been under pressure due to protests following (militant commander) Burhan Wani’s death. The Chief of Army Staff flew in and we went to Uri. We walked in three-inch-deep ashes of the camp which had been attacked. There was no doubt in our mind that we had to do something and we had to hit Pakistan camps across the LoC. You may call it revenge but in our mind, this had to be done,” he said.
The aim of the strikes, he said, could not have been fulfilled through artillery fire. “We had had massive artillery duels but it was not helping. Planning had been going on in advance. We pulled out our old plans, refurbished them a bit and sent the Special Forces across. Should it have been publicised? There was no option. Too many questions were being asked. The media and our own Army soldiers were asking, ‘what are we doing about so many deaths of soldiers’,” he said.
He said following the surgical strikes, the Army noted a “fair amount of panic” on the Pakistani side. “Their leaves were cancelled. We caught their chatter on radio. There was talk that we might repeat it in some area. There was fair amount of shock on their part as to how have these guys come in and done this operation. This did impose caution on them in some limited sense,” he said.
Responding to a question from the audience, Hooda said in hindsight, it would have been better had the strikes been done secretly.