The Myanmar strikes are in the news right now. Do you think it is redefining India’s counter-terrorism policy?
Yes, I think it is. Earlier it was a passive mode where you did not really react in the manner you did this time. This is definitely a new approach by the government wherein they are going to retaliate in a very hard fashion if there is a terrorist attack by anybody across any border. So it effectively opens up possibilities against China (since it is a disputed border) and Pakistan as well.
The not so good thing that has happened is that it has taken an anti-Pakistan note because of our usual habit of reducing everything down to Pakistan, and in a sense it defeats the larger strategic purpose that we are trying to signal. Unfortunately, former Colonel and current Minister of State for Information & Broadcasting, Rajyavardhan Rathore, putting an anti-Pakistan spin on things in an indirect way has not helped either. Targeting Pakistan is not on because all it does is that Pakistan gets all worked up, everyone starts talking about a possible nuclear scenario, and the essential thing is lost.
Instead, what we are trying to say is – if there is a terrorist strike, we will respond to the strikes by eliminating the terrorists – the groups that are responsible for the strike. Very simple.
The other downside of the strike is that we have also put the Special Forces in the news by sharing their photographs. This is not done. Special Forces are special because they are incognito. Their photographs should never come out because they can become targets. These are secret missions. Now you have gone and said that the 21 Para commandos carried this out. You never let out which commando group did it.
How important is it to have the consent, or the partnership of the country in which you are going to conduct the surgical strikes?
When the countries themselves recognise there is a problem, as the Myanmar government does, as the Bhutanese government earlier did wherein we carried out a similar operation in 2003 eliminating ULFA terrorists, then it is fine. This was in that league, where compliant states were aware of the problem and they also needed help to root out terrorist outfits, which had forcibly occupied space in their own land.
In Burma, the Khaplang NSCN faction for instance (which wants an independent Nagaland), has support from Kachin army, also known as Chin army, which in turn is supported by China. The Kachin or Chin army controls Northern-North Eastern Myanmar. This part of Myanmar is controlled remotely by China through the Kachin army.
This is a much larger situation than merely going across the Manipur border and hitting. It points out the rather grave possibility of bigger powers involved, and I am not talking about Pakistan, but China. This raises the question – would India respond, as we seem to have some evidence of the Khaplang NSCN faction being supported by China through the Kachin army, in a similar manner in Northern Myanmar? Interesting thought. That is what we need to worry about. Pakistan is a very minor issue. We always get side-tracked and that’s what we should avoid doing.