A week after the gruesome Pulwama suicide attacks, on 20th February, was the birth anniversary of Chhatrapati Shivaji, one of, if the not the, greatest military military strategists cum leader that India has produced.
Prime Minister Modi’s leadership and actions in the aftermath of the Pulwama attack has a lot of parallels with celebrated Pratapgadh encounter between Shivaji and the Adilshahi General Afzal Khan, in terms of comprehensive strategy, successful military action and decisive leadership.
First, is the appreciation of the asymmetrical nature of the conflict. Afzal Khan had more than 50,000 well trained cavalry and infantry backed by more than 1000 musketeers and 80-90 cannons. Against that Shivaji’s forces numbered less than 15,000 in strength. The Kashmir conflict is classically asymmetrical with Pakistani army trained and heavily armed terrorists, not following any rules of warfare, fighting with help from civilian stone pelters against disciplined and restrained Indian security forces.
Second, is having a clarity of the objectives with a complete grasp of the situation and ground realities. Shivaji knew that his forces were vastly outnumbered and outgunned by the Bijapur army in open battle. He was clear in his desire to succeed, against all odds, rather than attain glorious martyrdom. PM Modi also displayed amazing clarity of thought. Post Uri surgical strikes were about revenge and boosting the morale of the Indian army. However the post Pulwama airstrikes inside Pakistan targeted the leadership and the foot soldiers of the Jaish-e-Mohammad to pre-empt future suicidal attacks, which would have been very demoralising for the security forces and the Indian nation.
More importantly, the airstrikes were designed to send a message to Pakistan and to the separatists in Kashmir of the Indian government’s willingness to take tough decisions and the ability to implement them successfully.
Third, is the display of nerves of steel in adhering to the defined political objectives and adoption of military strategy to achieve the objectives. Afzal Khan plundered Wai and Pandharpur, demolished temples and committed unspeakable atrocities on the civilian population to draw Shivaji down to the plains to fight and protect his people. In spite of very grave provocation, Shivaji refused to succumb to the pressure. Post Pulwama, clamour for revenge was rising by the day.
Modi took his time and gave a free hand to the armed forces and the security apparatus. This ensured adequate planning and intelligence for the successful execution of the operation. Paksitani overtures for trading India’s captured pilot Wing Commander Abhinandan, for de-escalation were outrightly rejected, notwithstanding “Kandahar” like attempts by certain sections of the Indian peaceniks to build emotional pressure.
Fourth, is the decision to engage with the enemy at the time and place of ones own choice. Shivaji forced Afzal Khan to meet at the foothills of Pratapgadh, a mountainous terrain surrounded by dense forests, to avoid giving Khan’s larger and better equipped forces, the opportunity of an open battle. The time and choice of targets of the Balakot airstrikes was well calibrated. Pakistan was hit in the least expected manner. But more important was the choice of the targets hit (terror camps) inside Pakistan. Sufficient for Pakistan army and leadership to be publicly humiliated but not grave enough for the Pakistan to have a ground for escalating the situation, since their military or civilian installations were not targeted.
Fifth, is the preparation for the aftermath of any military action. Shivaji had placed his men in the dense jungles around the venue of the meeting with Afzal Khan, to be prepared for any eventuality. His forces were kept in readiness for any hostilities, even if arising from an adverse outcome of the meeting with Afzal Khan. Similar care was taken by the Indian government. Fuel supplies in Kashmir military garrisons was quietly stocked up and additional para-military forces were sent to Kashmir to meet contingencies. The Indian armed forces were placed on full alert.
Sixth, is the preparation for any deceit by the enemy. Shivaji took precautions against potential deceit by Afzal Khan by wearing body armour, iron tiger claws and a concealed dagger. As borne out by subsequent events, these precautionary measures saved Shivaji’s life. It was speculated that Pakistan would not attack Indian military facilities since India had avoided doing the same. Nonetheless Indian armed forces were kept in readiness. The IAF successfully repulsed the subsequent Pakistani airforce attack on Indian military installations in spite of Pakistan Prime Minister talking of de-escalation.Last and most important is to drive home the advantage. After killing Afzal Khan, Shivaji’s forces attacked Khan’s army in surprise attacks and drove them out, capturing 23 forts and considerable war booty.
It is here that PM Modi has a long battle ahead. The declaration by the Indian Army representative that India will continue to act against terror camps and the arrests of Kashmiri separatists display a hitherto unseen resolve. PM Modi true to his style, will let his actions speak and time tell the story.
(The writer is a Chartered Accountant and a keen student of history and international relations)