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Thucydides Revisited-Indian Army’s Surgical Strike on September 29

The Indian resolve to strike at Pakistani terror camps as a fitting response to Uri attacks and call Pakistan’s bluff demonstrates clearly why Pakistan must learn from military history

The latest surgical strike by India across the Line of Control (LoC) has called off the ‘nuclear blackmail’ bluff by Pakistan. Ever since the Uri incident on September 18 in which 18 Indian soldiers were killed, the laundry list of responses that India had was met with the veiled threat of nuclear retaliation by Pakistan. The TV anchors on both sides of the border had effectively decided what their government strategies would be. It now emerges that the Indian government’s response to Uri attack was a well planned riposte to repeated sabre rattling by Pakistan in the form of aggressive posturing at the UN General Assembly. Had the Pakistani Military-Jihadi complex bothered to learn a little bit from military history, they would have realised how wrong they were.

In the ‘History of the Peloponnesian’ war, Thucydides succinctly brings out the nuances of negotiation between a strong and a weak power. In what is famously known as the Melian Dialogue, there are striking parallels in what happened over the past fortnight or so. Melians were the inhabitants of Melos, a much weaker power that went to war with Athens. They had a close ally in Sparta, a geographically distant power. All along the Melians thought that Athens would not dare attack because Sparta would help Melos. Athens would not be stupid enough to ruin itself by such a risky gambit and come to grief.

In the final dialogue between representatives of both the sides, the Athenians wanted to impress upon the dire consequences that could befall Melos if it persisted with its stubborn stand. The Melians as usual were recalcitrant and unrelenting in their pursuit. The parting shot of Athenian representative summed it all.

“……judging from this decision of yours, you seem to us quite unique in your ability to consider the future as something more certain than what is before your eyes, and to see uncertainties as realities, simply because you would like them to be.

Post the Uri attack, in the diplomatic confrontation between India and Pakistan, the US always lurked in the background of Pakistani mindset as the proverbial Sparta who would come to its aid. The Pakistani establishment seemed to carry a historical baggage when the US would come to its aid in the event of any confrontation with India. The same was buttressed recently when the US stopped short of naming Pakistan as a sponsor of terror. Little did Pakistan realise that it was the same US that did not hesitate to violate Pakistan’s sovereignty and territorial integrity to kill Osama Bin Laden in a top secret mission. India gave all the warnings and tell tale signs of a fitting retaliation that fell on deaf ears of Pakistani policymakers.

‘Any crossing of the LoC would be met with severe retaliation’ was the oft repeated cliche by Pakistan. To state that such a provocation would be a red line from which India could not retreat had gained currency across the spectrum of Pakistani political and military establishments. To call off such a bluff, the strike had been planned immediately after Uri attack. Every opportunity was given to Pakistan that always hid behind the oft repeated excuse of ‘non state actors.’ As the highly successful strike by the Indian army demonstrated, a threshold in confrontation was crossed. Not only this. Like an astute chess player, the Indian political, diplomatic and security establishments would surely have their strategy mapped out for the next twenty moves or so. India did not blink. Just like Athens did not when confronted with an obstinate Melos!

Guru Aiyar is a Research Fellow in Geostrategy programme at Takshashila Institution

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