Within hours of the Uri attack, many Indians began drumming up the idea of surgical strikes into Pakistan. This chorus takes one back to the outrage that the November 26, 2008 Mumbai attacks had caused across India. Then, the tone and tenor that most Indians, including some of their best writers such C Raja Mohan, deployed was one of punishing lessons for Pakistan through surgical strikes.
And this forces me to recall a conversation I had with one senior military official. Then I had dismissed this as a typical propaganda against President Asif Ali Zardari. But the new situation prompts me to place this conversation on record, particularly because ex-foreign minister Khursid Kasuri too narrated an encounter along the same lines.
One late evening in early December on that year, President Zardari summoned a meeting with prime minister Yousuf Raza Gillani and the army chief General Ashfaq Kayani. The subject being the furious Indian mood.
At one point, the president threw a question at both Kayani and Gillani; “what if we allowed the Indians a few symbolic strikes at certain insignificant places. This could help in cooling down their rage,” the official had recounted.
A baffled General Kayani, the official said, looked at Gillani for his opinion.
“I think this could be counter-productive for us, politically unwise,” Gilani said.
Emboldened by this, Kayani finally spoke out; “Mr President, how can we afford this politically. A single shot fired from across the border would amount to declaration of war and my own army officers, our people will lynch us if we did not respond to it.”
With this the meeting came to an abrupt end. Once in the car, the embittered army chief called up the air chief and asked him to scramble jets for a round-the-clock aerial patrol of the eastern border regions.
The near corroboration of this came last year from the former foreign minister Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri who stated in his book “Neither A Hawk, Nor A Dove” released last year. He says India had planned air strikes in Pakistan following the 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks to target Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jamaatud Dawa in Muridke near Lahore.
Kasuri’s source of information was a US Senators’ delegation led by John McCain and Lindsey Graham. They came to Lahore from India and had requested Kasuri for a quiet meeting. President Bush had sent the Senators to sniff the mood both in India and Pakistan.
Kasuri has offered a detailed account of that meeting in his book (Page 428-29).
Senator McCain wanted to know from me……… what the reaction of the Pakistan army and the public at large would be if there was a limited air-raid on Muridke, writes Kasuri, adding he was “horrified at the mere suggestion.”
The Senators, also accompanied by Richard Holbrook, the then special Pak-Afghan Envoy, later travelled on to Islamabad for meetings with the army chief and President Zardari.
The dialogue between Premier Gilani, General Kayani and President Zardari took place only a couple of days after the Americans had left.
Records also suggest that shortly before the US Senator’s visit, India’s top military, political and intelligence leadership had in a secret meeting on December 2, 2008, mulled the aerial/surgical strikes against targets in Pakistan.
It means the notion of surgical strikes has been an active though – at least in the hawkish civil-military circles for quite some time, the way the US arrogated upon itself the right of preemptive aerial or drone strikes. This despite the fact that such attacks brazenly contravene the international law. Carrying out such an attack based on mere allegations is not only totally unlawful also against the fundamental principle of national sovereignty of the target country. Even if there were evidence of some mischief, the only sanction for pursuing this mischief in another country is through the United Nations.
But geo-politics of course hardly cares for the international law or the UN approval. Iraq and even Afghanistan represent the telling examples of unilateral action by mighty nations. India’s current leadership also tends to ape the US when talking of Pakistan, often invoking phrases that we used to hear from President Bush, Richard Armitage and Condolezza Rice. Most US Congressmen, too, still peddle more or less the same skewed narrative on Pakistan – shaped mostly by the influence. And if this belligerence continues, normalization of relations will remain elusive. The entire region is likely to suffer the consequences of this jingoism.
The writer heads the independent Centre for Research and Security Studies, Islamabad and is author of Pakistan: Pivot of Hizbut Tahrir’s Global Caliphate
This article was first published in The Express Tribune. Click here to go to the original.