The Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), General Bipin Rawat, is fond of his voice and certainly pleased with his periodic turn of phrase. In an ironic way he reminds me of General Patton of the Second World War. The former, with all his elan, cannot match the precision of the latter: “No bastard ever won a war by dying for his country. He won it by making some other poor dumb bastard die for his country.” Furthermore, when the world was engaged in a do-or-die battle of freedom, Gen Patton lived in the romantic notion of war being his heroic destiny. Admittedly, things are more convoluted and, in many ways, less heroic in our times. But as always in war, there is the matter of strategic out-classing the enemy.
Some days ago, as India woke up to the news that our valiant military had eliminated Riyaz Naikoo, the leader of a terrorist outfit, Gen Rawat had some advice to give: “Creating a more than life-size image of a terrorist leader is somehow propagating them into this Rambo kind of image. I think the more we stay away from them and highlight their negativity more, we will not create this Rambo image of these people. They are people just spreading terrorism, mayhem, and not allowing normalcy to return in the state. They are not heroes in the eyes of the local population. People are being coerced to treat them as heroes because of social media.”
The discomfort the General feels have been felt before, particularly in the reporting of the Burhan Wani encounter. The social media and the emergence of gen-x breed of extremists posed a new problem for our fight against terrorism. Therefore, our response has to be strategic, military, perceptional, media management-oriented. Someone in government needs to take a call on how to present our successes to citizens. The rules of the game and the requirements for combatting insurgency are entirely different from when we fight a conventional war against an external enemy. Now, of course, the world accepts that even in conventional war situations military solutions are rare and we need to refresh our memory of US engagement in Vietnam and Afghanistan or the British action in South America. Yet, the enemy or the adversary, as the case might be, must be placed in appropriate perspective for maximum advantage.
Gen Patton reacted to the advance of Rommel’s Panzers in North Africa by mumbling, “Rommel, you magnificent Bastard, I’ve read your Book.” So, when we vanquish an enemy who has eluded capture for eight years and repeatedly inflicted pain upon us, should we describe our feat as extraordinary or pass it off as business as usual? It is possible that both options have something to offer but the decision should be at the highest level rather than an off-the-cuff remark of a uniformed officer, irrespective of the rank. It is entirely possible that a clandestine operation inflicting maximum damage without public announcements that inevitably rouse reaction might be more effective. Or else celebrating the scalp of a dreadful enemy might give psychological advantage and demoralise the enemy. On that score, accounting for a Rambo might serve us better than some supposed foot soldier. Admitting that Rambo lives might be a problem but to say that Rambo is down pumped with a lot of Indian Army lead is quite another.
For twenty years, the Generals have been after the terrorists but we see no end to these tribulations. Crossing the LoC and making surgical strikes by the Army and the Air Force were in reserve for long, the government might say, too long, but now that too has been accomplished, although some people continue to debate the extent of damage inflicted. One thing is clear though that Pakistan and its minions have not felt the deterrent. All we might argue is that it might have been much worse without it. On the home front we shook the federal structure, reduced J&K into a UT and by creating a separate UT of Ladakh. Local leaders were incarcerated and movement as well as communications curtailed. First there was no internet, then only 2G instead of 4G. Public demonstrations are in check, but, as we have discovered in the past week, terrorist encounters have not been eliminated. With all the rabbits out of the hat we still wait for the magician’s clinching act. The chinar would be lush green with summer foliage but the autumn will come again and the leaves will turn a glorious red before falling to weave a carpet on the ground. Does that teach us a lesson that things will not be the same and must change. But will we ever be able to say, ‘If the winter comes, can the spring be far behind.’ For certain, it will take more than press conferences to secure trust and affection for the spring.