Let us appreciate that any tactical flashpoint by soldiers on the frontline can have strategic repercussions.
These are testing times. While talks between foreign ministers offer hope, yet two nuclear nations are facing each other with their conventional armed forces across an unresolved border, have already had a few stand-offs, some casualties, have had shots being fired, and held several rounds of talks to resolve the impasse, without much success and counting. In such times, the military and the leadership must take their decisions with utmost care, caution and maturity. All organs of the government and all instruments of power of the country need to be synergized. And the nation must rise as one in such times of national emergency.
As is only to be expected, there is great hype on this topic from all stakeholders, exacerbated by the corona crisis. Media houses want to report the “moistest” at the fastest, even at the expense of fact-check and credibility, if need be. They have their TRP compulsions. But in matters military, they also have their limitations of information voids. So they rope in experts, retired military officers, diplomats, defence analysts and what have you. These experts are practitioners who have worked in the field, have a good understanding of the context, terrain and the method of operations. But the trouble starts when some of them start to put out factual information gleaned from some contacts.
Fed by a small section of jingoistic media and experts and a vested narrative on social media, a certain section of population starts to raise wild slogans. There are absurd calls for carrying out surgical strike against the adversary or going deep inside and teaching them a lesson, whatever that means. They start to question the military and the government on every tactical step.
I think in such times we all must maintain our cool and equilibrium. Jingoism and hype do not serve any positive purpose in such situations. Let us appreciate that any tactical flashpoint by soldiers on the frontline can have strategic repercussions.
All Indians—cutting across all lines—need to trust the military, have more faith in the bravery of Indian Army soldiers, for they have never let them down and will not do so in future as well, even if it means sacrificing their lives. Let the soldiers feel the support of 1.3 billion Indians behind them.
The need of the hour is for the media to exercise utmost restraint. There should not be any indecent haste to present the facts. In military matters, everything should not be put out in the public domain. Any details, more so of an ongoing operation must, of necessity, be kept confidential. It can even jeopardise the lives of soldiers in operations. Defence analysts, strategic experts and especially veteran defence officers should be cautious and only explain the context. They are not really privy to the current developments, or at least have no business to be privy to them. It must also be remembered that diverging facts while the operations are ongoing are not only unethical, but also illegal.
On the other hand, while we look for responsible reporting from the media, I would also urge all of us to be mature citizens. One hears doomsday voices like, we have ceded a large chunk of our territory, China has occupied a thousand square kilometres of our territory, jingoistic calls for surgical strikes across the borders and desire to teach the adversary a lesson, whatever it takes. Such factually incorrect spreading of information, irrational slogans and sentiment must stop.
Surgical strikes, for instance, are executed against a terrorist camp, not a regular Army. Responsible nations have a mechanism of engagement and talks to avoid a possible confrontation or war. War is deadly business. It will set any country back by ten years or more. We should be talking of war avoidance. Any conflict or war should be the last resort, and any rational mind would want it to be that way. However, Indian Army will never let India lose territory. We are always prepared, at all costs.
In case of any border issues with any adversary, it is also imperative that the Indian military and the Indian government should keep the nation informed by putting out some details regularly in the public domain, however little the security considerations may permit. To avoid wild speculation, the public must be informed pro-actively. Information is a space, in which if you leave a void in today’s world more than ever before, it will be filled by the other side. That is information warfare. What follows closely, almost inextricably, is the narrative building. This battle of perceptions is a field which leaves a lot to be desired on our part.
Hopefully, we all will come out of this with some learning experiences. The government will put out some information, as much as it can, without jeopardising security, and media maturity will plug in, as far as ongoing military operations are concerned. It will automatically give rise to more mature analysis and debate on the channels and online platforms. India is a diverse country, but we have often proven our unity in diversity and the ability to rise together as one against all challenges.
May India always triumph!
Lt General Satish Dua (Retd) is a former Corps Commander in Kashmir, who retired as Chief of Integrated Defence Staff. Views expressed are personal.