Infiltration frequency will test surgical strikes' success: Shivshankar Menon

Former national security advisor Shivshankar Menon stressed that in the last 30 years when Pakistan has thrown cross-border terrorism in all its worst form, India has done its best in this period.

Washington: Asserting that actions like surgical strikes are not a "permanent solution", former national security advisor Shivshankar Menon has said the real test of the success of India's military action in PoK is whether the LoC is pacified and the infiltration goes down.

Talking about the surgical strikes carried out by India in the aftermath of the Uri terror attack, he said he was not sure if it indicated a major shift in policy and described India's action akin to mowing the grass, which one has to do repeatedly at regular intervals from keeping the grass to attain certain height.

"I am not sure, if there is a major shift in policy," he told PTI.

"First of all the use of (the term) surgical strike is not right. It is a phrase developed by the US in the nuclear context. It had a very specific meaning -- taking out the adversaries' nuclear weapons through the surgical strike and eliminate those weapons," said Menon, who was the NSA from 2011 to 2014 under the Manmohan Singh government.

Menon stated that what has happened post-Uri has "not eliminated these jihadi tanzims" or any of the terror groups.

"It was an attack on few launch pads and of course damage to them. But this is not a damage that they cannot repair or recover. Secondly, there was a huge amount of restraint shown in the choice of target and the location, it's on Indian territory after all," Menon said.

"I think, the difference is that this government has chosen to go public. Whether it works or not, the real test is whether the Line of Control is pacified, whether the infiltration goes down," Menon said.

Noting that every government chooses its own way of dealing with these things, Menon said, "My own sense, which the Israelis describe is like mowing the grass. Something you need to keep doing, but the grass would keep growing. And it is not a permanent solution. Not military force, not diplomacy, but the combination of both together amount to mowing the grass."

Menon stressed that from a strategic point of view, in the last 30 years when Pakistan has thrown cross-border terrorism in all its worst form, India has done its best in this period.

"This is not an existential threat to India. This is something that can be managed, needs to be managed, needs responses, including military, diplomatic and other responses and to the extent that this government is now doing it publicly, is also following a policy of diplomatically isolating Pakistan for what it has done, is actually a continuing of existing policy, but taken further one more step. I hope it works," Menon said.

In his book 'Choices: Inside the making of India's Foreign Policy', released at the Brookings Institute last week, Menon writes that in the immediate aftermath of the Mumbai terror attack, the then External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee and he as the foreign secretary had strongly pushed for immediate retaliatory strikes inside Pakistan and Pak-occupied Kashmir (Pok) which did not happen. 

In his book, which was printed much before the Indian surgical strikes in PoK, Menon writes if India is forced to make a similar choice as it faced post 26/11 in the future, "I am sure it will respond differently".

While Menon in his book does not mention as to why such a move of retaliatory strike against Pakistan post 26/11 were not undertaken, he does throw some hints.
"Personalities matter," he writes in the book.

"With a different mix of people at the helm, it is quite possible that India would have chosen differently," he says.

In the hindsight nearly eight years later, Menon believes that the decision not to retaliate militarily and to concentrate on diplomatic, covert, and other means was the right one for that time and peace.

The book, which devotes one full chapter to the Mumbai terror attack, is all set to hit the book stores globally next week.

Reflecting his thinking of those days when Pakistani-trained terrorists massacred more than 160 innocent people in Mumbai, Menon writes in the book, "I myself pressed at that time for immediate visible retaliation of sort, either against the LeT in Muridke, in Pakistan's Punjab province, or their camps in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, or against the ISI, which was clearly complicit."

To have done so, Menon notes, would have been emotionally satisfying and gone some way toward "erasing the shame of incompetence that India's police and security agencies displayed" in the glare of the world's television lights for three full days.

Menon says the then National Security Advisor MK Narayanan organised the review of the Indian military and other kinetic options with the political leadership and the military chiefs outlined their views to the then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

Menon says he "urged both External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh that we should retaliate, and be seen to retaliate, to deter further attacks, for reasons of international credibility" and to assuage public sentiments.

"For me Pakistan had crossed a red line, and that action demanded more than a standard response," he writes, adding that his preference was for overt action against LeT headquarters in Muridke, or the LeT camps in PoK and covert action against their sponsors ISI.

"Mukherjee seemed to agree with me and spoke publicly of all our options being open," the former NSA says in his book.

Not giving in details as to who took the final call against taking such a strike, Menon says the "decision makers concluded" that more was to be gained from not attacking Pakistan than from attacking it.

Menon says India gained more by its strategic self- restraint.

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