NEW DELHI: Following Pakistan‘s September 18 Fidayeen attack on the army’s camp at Uri with heavy casualties, right-wing hawks in India, many veterans among them, are vehemently demanding “pay back Pakistan in the same coin” without loss of time.

They advocate a free hand for the army to strike at targets inside POK and even inside Pakistan, active covert operations in Balochistan, Israeli-style “surgical strikes”, etc.. Thus, there is relentless pressure building up on Prime Minister Narendra Modi, to take punitive military action against Pakistan.

That the situation is exceedingly serious is shown by Pakistan’s defence minister declaring that it will not hesitate to use tactical nuclear weapons if India attacks, and Russia, not wanting to be seen as even vaguely supporting nuclear weapon use, immediately cancelling the planned Russia-Pakistan joint military exercises.

But rather than succumbing to the demands of increasingly vocal hawks, PM Modi has so far averted the possible disaster of nuclear exchange initiated by an irresponsible Pakistani military (which de facto runs its government, prompting a wag to quip that Pakistan has two kinds of sharafat – Nawaz and Raheel – which are both anti-India), by first taking stock of the strategic options before India. This is the job of the National Security Council (NSC).

According to news reports, the Government is planning a slew of political-diplomatic offensives and economic measures against Pakistan, without prejudice to military action at an appropriate time. But there is a point of serious concern in the planning of these doubtless well-considered measures. And that is the absence of consultation of the Defence Services by the Prime Minister. (This criticism should not be taken as coming from a retired soldier, but from an informed and concerned citizen albeit with a military background).

A news report (“India sticks to diplomatic offensive”; The Hindu; 20.9.2016; p.1) reads: “In several meetings on Monday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi took stock of all the options. The day began with a review by Home Minister Rajnath Singh and NSA Ajit Doval, who then met [emphases supplied] Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar”.

Considering that the Uri attack was on an army camp, and action against Pakistan is an external security issue to be tackled by military-diplomatic means, the Defence Minister coming in almost as an afterthought and the External Affairs Minister not even in the loop, is unconscionable. Perhaps the role of the Defence Services and India’s diplomatic corps is viewed as secondary, they being required to merely do as ordered.

This is possibly due to National Security Advisor Ajit Doval’s influence and mindset which sidelines India’s military in security matters, as he did following the Pakistan-sourced January attack on Pathankot Air Force Base.

The political-economic-diplomatic-military course of action against Pakistan, which PM Modi’s government may finally adopt cannot be workable without detailed involvement of India’s Defence Services Chiefs. Especially in the current circumstance, action against Pakistan can neither be effective nor adequate without close involvement of India’s military.

In matters of national security strategy, noting that neglecting military welfare has already had its negative consequences, neglect of military expertise and experience will certainly have nationally unacceptable consequences.

The military-political debacle of 1962 happened because of the then Prime Minister sidelining military expert advice. But then there was no National Security Council. Today, India’s NSC, chaired by the Prime Minister, is its apex agency for political, economic, energy and strategic concerns. The result of NSC neglecting military expert opinion will lie squarely at its door. At the present juncture, overcoming bureaucratic opposition to appoint a military Chief of General Staff as a member of NSC, is the need of the hour.

(Major General S.G. Vombatkere, VSM, retired as Additional DG Discipline & Vigilance in Army HQ AG’s Branch.)