After the surgical strikes against Pakistan across the Line of Control (LoC), there is one similar theme running across the editorials published in newspapers on Friday — that of silent jubilation, if not effusive.
Across leading national dailies, the tone was not only congratulatory, but also one of looking ahead: What will be the Centre’s plan after its military success, what is Delhi’s objective — escalation or restraint, what are the standard operating procedures after such routine strikes, how long will India’s border towns and villages be on high alert? These are just some of the questions voiced by India’s dailies. There were some cautious answers too on offer.
The Hindu, as it always does, took a sombre approach to the entire affair with its editorial simply titled Crossing the Line of Control. The piece looks at how India’s next steps after Uri are stuck at “uncharted terrain”, especially with Delhi shedding its favoured policy of restraint and taking on a new coat of aggressive approach (as seen by the surgical strikes). But in its sobriety, The Hindu‘s editorial also offers prudence: It heeds the Centre to spell out — and soon — what it will define as “new normal” the relations between India and Pakistan and how it aims to approach the situation, and Pakistan in particular, to avoid it being escalated. In addition, The Hindu editorial also comes to the conclusion that the operation took place as a result of pressure on the Narendra Modi-led BJP government to shoot back a meaty powerful response to the 18 September Uri attack.
This is in rather stark contrast to The Times of India‘s editorial, if you only go by its headline, Avenging Uri: Modi has sent a message of resolve, but India must be on high alert. A lot has been said and written about the contrasting viewpoints of both the newspapers — colloquially known as Old Lady of Bori Bunder vs Mount Road Mahavishnu — perhaps it holds good for this case as well. But besides the headline, the editorial does keep a straight head on its shoulders keenly observing that “there is little scope for triumphalism or even unwarranted optimism at this stage”. It advises India’s political parties to come together for the nation’s cause and find a joint solution to the constant threats of terror. The Times of India editorial also cites the example of what happened post Kargil as a warning of what might come after Wednesday’s strike: Pakistan responded by hijacking an Indian Airlines flight and getting in exchange Masood Azhar, who went on to form the Jaish-e-Mohammad. It postulates that (this time around) Pakistan could “activate terror cells inside India” and perhaps also move terror launchpads away from LoC. India should be prepared, it details, with standard operating procedures and equipment ready just in case Pakistan decides to strike back. Interestingly, the editorial also signals a warning to Pakistan — that it would be better off “to head off the path of confrontation”, and it would find a willing Delhi ready to talk on any issue.
The Indian Express‘ editorial — Defining Moment — focuses on how the Centre must look to control the script “it so dramatically redrew”. It writes about India’s multi-tiered strategy to isolate Pakistan from the rest of the world, through calling for a review of Indus Waters Treaty, calling off its participation in Saarc and finally a military strike; the last option that has taken Pakistan by surprise. On a final note, The Indian Express‘ editorial implores Delhi to keep its head in the game and to be clear in its objective to “raise the costs for Pakistan” and be careful that the situation is not escalated keeping in mind the temporary triumph it tasted during the surgical strikes.
Writing for Mint, its executive editor Anil Padmanabhan is all praise for the Narendra Modi government’s actions. Titled Narendra Modi walks the talk with surgical strikes against Pakistan, he writes that the government has sent a strong and clear message to Pakistan that “it can no longer be business as usual”. Padmanabhan is of the opinion that these surgical strikes are a measured response befitting the status of an “advanced, modern nation” and that the nation can no longer be taken for a sitting duck. He further argues that by responding in such a way, the NDA government has shown that “nothing is off the table”, be it a military strike or a diplomatic one, as seen by the pulling out of the Saarc summit. This strike has seen India come a long way from its days of so-called soft responses to terror: Padmanabhan, who opines that Pakistan and China used to interpret India’s passive resistance as the “lack of a stomach for a fight”, drives home the point of a surgical strike in the penultimate paragraph: That a surgical strike is easier to undertake, costs less and is not as risky as a full-blown war.
It’s no surprise that, on reading Hindustan Times‘ editorial Surgical strikes: A fitting reply to Pakistan, the newspaper fully backs the government’s surgical strikes. In fact, it only stops short of chest-thumping. Sample this.
The death of 18 Indian soldiers in the Uri attack meant there had to be a cost imposed on the terrorist groups, not only on their patrons. This has now been achieved through the surgical strikes. Given where the launch-pads were located, close to the line of control, it is a safe assumption that the terrorists amassed there were highly trained and motivated, the best of their breed. Taking them out of the equation alters the security calculus, at least until their masters have found adequate replacements.
The Hindustan Times‘ editorial also attempts to put into perspective this operation: that India did indeed display “strategic patience” by not retaliating immediately after the Uri attack, instead waiting for two weeks and using those two weeks to strategise diplomatically to gain international sympathy. The editorial also examines Pakistan’s response, which it terms “predictable” and “smart”, because it gives them the advantage of pompous self-assertion without the undertaking of actual military operations. And that India should expect Pakistan to proclaim vengeance and appeal to the international community to interfere and also expect hackneyed statements on the two countries to exercise restraint. It does end the same way it started: how India’s leaders should guard the country against future threats while reveling in the “satisfaction from the revenge, served cold and in good measure, for Uri”.
However, this much can be said: that the opinions and analyses offered by the newspapers far trump the jingoistic messages and salvos fired by television channels, who played both judge and jury, on the same. It’s at this time that we must — as Indians and journalists — look at where we draw the line when we report matters of national and international importance; to be over cautious would only mean exercising restraint and to be sober in our celebrations would only mean being clear-headed when we might easily be tempted to go overboard.
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