Laxminarayan Ramdas, a retired admiral of the Indian Navy, served as the chief of naval staff between 1990 and 1993. Over a phone conversation with Surabhi Kanga, the web editor at The Caravan, Ramdas discussed India’s response to the militant attack on a Central Reserve Police Force convoy in Pulwama, in Jammu and Kashmir, on 14 February, in which over forty personnel were killed. Twelve days after the Pulwama attack, the Indian Air Force carried out an air strike in Jabba, a village near the Balakot town in Pakistan’s Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province, followed by a dogfight with Pakistan’s air force the next day. Ramdas described India’s actions as ill-considered and called on the Indian government to de-escalate tensions. “Wars never produce answers,” he said. He added that only arms suppliers stand to gain from war. “We have become puppets in the hands of the big warmongers ... who sell us our weapons and equipment.”
I am very disappointed with what is happening in India at the moment. It is not that the government lacked understanding about the cost of this retaliation when we went ahead with our aerial strike on Balakot, in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, on 26 February. This entailed crossing the Pakistani border, into its territory, and not in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir. We started the whole escalation process actually, nothing to do with [Pakistan]—no amount of whitewash will change that.
We struck Pakistan using the justification that we had incontrovertible intelligence that more strikes similar to Pulwama, by the Jaish-e-Mohammed, were imminent. Similarly, Pakistan can strike any target in India giving reasons why they had to take anticipatory measures based on their own intelligence. What is the guarantee that tomorrow they will not come and strike XYZ in Mumbai or Delhi or any other place of their choosing?
The Pulwama attack was tragic and should never have happened. The culprits must be brought to book. But using Pulwama as the rationale, we are now extending the blame to Kashmiris as a whole—especially Kashmiri students, in many parts of the country. Soon after the Pulwama attack, on 20 February, I wrote a letter to the president of India, suggesting that we take the “high moral ground” by declaring “an unconditional Hold Fire” pending a detailed enquiry into the attack. My letter also recommended immediate action by the prime minister and top leaders to halt the media war against innocent Kashmiris across India.
I also added that India should initiate a dialogue with Pakistan, and with the people of Jammu and Kashmir. We claim Jammu and Kashmir to be ours—that is perfectly alright, that is what our legal accession document states. But the legal accession document also says many other things on which we have reneged.