Pakistan’s Fear Of Surgical Strike
Spy craft or intelligence is inseparable from statecraft, generally speaking. Similarly diplomacy is partly akin to spying in a foreign country. A statesman is extremely dependent on his or her intelligence service for carrying out the statecraft or in the conduct of diplomacy. But statecraft and diplomacy are much more than simply spying or intelligence business—statesman has to be innovative in the kind of solutions it presents to the problems, identified by the state machinery, in carrying out the statecraft.
Despite the extreme dependence of statesman and statecraft on intelligence or spying, both the statesman and statecraft cannot leave the business of the state to be dominated by his or her intelligence services.
All over the world the prime task of any intelligence service is presumed to be to avert surprises for the statesman. Intelligence services are expected to provide timely information about any impending crisis or a disaster, sabotage or any development that could cause trouble for the state and society in general to their political masters, who are running the state or the government. All other roles of intelligence services are of secondary importance or significance. Primarily they are supposed to avert any situation which can cause a surprise for the political master. For this intelligence services engage in information gathering and analyzing that information or intelligence within the framework of its pre-existing threat perceptions and understandings.
It seems that Pakistani intelligence services have recently provided such an intelligence report to their political masters. In this report Pakistani intelligence services may have informed the government that Indian government or military is planning a surgical strike inside Pakistan and that Indian government is lobbying in important world capitals—which are friendly towards India—to seek their tacit approval for such a surgical strike.
The words about India’s plans to carry out surgical strikes inside Pakistan are not new. We have been hearing about such a possible threat from Indian military since long. The sources of such information are news reports based on inspired leaks, full size books, magazine articles and cryptic statements and speeches by Pakistani officials. It is not clear whether the intelligence report that Foreign Minister mentioned in his press conference is a new report or is it the old one that has been doing the rounds for the last one year.
Pakistani officials and leaders have been persistently harping on this theme of threat of possible Indian pre-emptive strikes inside Pakistan since February 2019 when Indian Air Force did cross over into Pakistani territory and carried a so-called surgical strike on Balakot. It would not be wrong if the origins of Pakistan fear of a pre-emptive strike could be dated back to 1998 when the US military launched cruise missile attacks on Osama Bin Laden’s terror camps in Khost in Afghanistan. The cruise missiles were launched from American warship stationed in Arabian Sea and flew over Pakistani territory before they hit their targets in Afghanistan. In fact Pakistani military’s fear of an Indian pre-emptive strike goes further back in history when in 1984 Zia regime feared a joint India-Israel pre-emptive strike against Pakistan’s nuclear installations. This fear manifested itself again in 1986 during Brass Tacks military crisis when Pakistan military again feared that its nuclear installations were the prime target of Indian military buildup in Rajasthan sector. This fear again reared its head at the time of tit-for-tat nuclear testing by Pakistan and India in May 1998. Military experts are of the opinion that in view of Pakistan’s lack of strategic depth—at places Pakistan is less than 100 miles in width—Pakistani military’s fear of a pre-emptive strike is a natural outcome of its geography.
This basic question in such a situation is whether the Pakistan government has received any new intelligence report based on some real-time intelligence. Has there been some deployment or redeployment of Indian military assets close to the border that could be interpreted as threatening in Pakistan’s perception? As was indicated by two things, firstly, Foreign Minister addressed this press conference in Dubai after meeting UAE officials and secondly, as Foreign Minister said in the press conference they have come to know through their sources that India was seeking approval for such an adventure from its “partners”? If true, this assertion of Foreign Minister Qureshi would add credibility to Pakistan government’s latest bout of fear that India was about to carry out a pre-emptive strike inside Pakistan. If, however, latest fear of a pre-emptive strike is a recycled form of that same perennial fear that have manifested itself in one form or another during the past 36 years than, Pakistani foreign minister has intentionally caused an irreparable damage to already precarious regional security environment and further vitiated an already tense bilateral security relations between two South Asian nuclear rivals.
There is no particular development on the other side of the border that could indicate intense jingoism on the part of Indian government.
The problem with Pakistani diplomacy in the post-military governments period has been that Pakistani political leadership has ceased to be an independent actor in regional and international security diplomacy. They don’t have any independent sources of information since culturally and socially they are not regional and international actors—that at practical level would mean that they don’t have the experience of socializing with other regional players like our civilian leaders like Zulfikar Ali Bhutto used to socialize with regional elites. Hence they don’t have any independent sources of information. This type of regionally and internationally isolated leadership cannot act in any innovative manner in international or regional politics. They just read out from the script handed over to them by spymasters, who are by all means international players.
Umer Farooq is an Islamabad-based freelance journalist. He writes on security, foreign policy and domestic political issues.