India has finally accepted the truth regarding the 26th February intrusion in air space of Pakistan. On April 18, 2019 Indian Minister for External Affairs and senior leader of ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) Sushma Swaraj while addressing an election gathering accepted that not a single Pakistani citizen or military personnel was killed during the 26th February air strike.
The confession from Indian Minister for external Affairs verifies Pakistan’s stance that there was neither a militant training camp located in Balakot nor a single casualty occurred. Indian claim of shooting down a Pakistan Air Force (PAF) F-16 fighter jet during the 27th February dog fight has also been negated by a report in US based Foreign Policy Magazine according to which US defence officials have verified that Pakistan’s F-16 fleet is intact.
Pakistan’s military official spokesperson Major General Asif Ghafoor responded by saying that the truth has been revealed finally, and Pakistan hopes that one day truth regarding surgical strikes of 2016, shooting down of two Indian Air Force (IAF) jets by PAF and Indian claim about shooting PAF F-16 will be revealed some day by India. Its better late than never. The statement of Sushma Swaraj contradicts the Indian initial stance of projecting 26th February Pakistan’s air space violation a ‘successful air strike’, destroying the training camp of Jaish e Muhammad (JeM) and killing 350 militants. India has always relied on such false claims against Pakistan whether it is BJP or Congress in government.
The most recent crisis between the nuclear armed rivals of South Asia took place in the aftermath of 14th February Pulwama suicide attack by a Kashmiri local in which 44 Indian Central Police Reserve Force men were reportedly killed. India blamed Pakistan for sponsoring this incident, on February 26, 2019 IAF violated Pakistan’s Air Space in justification of targeting the training camp of alleged JeM but was compelled to retreat by PAF. In the meantime IAF jets only managed to jettison their payloads. India then claimed of hitting the camp killing 350 militants though the calim was questioned from around the world, the entire episode is part of history now. Pakistan during the National Security Committee meeting held on the same day chaired by Prime Minister Imran Khan officially rejected the Indian claim of hitting militant camp and causing heavy casualties.
It has been observed that whenever such incident occurs the Indian war hysteria gets activated and their leadership in matter of hours starts blaming Pakistan. Responding to Indian blames in his 19th February address Prime Minister Imran Khan offered India to have a joint investigation if India could provide any authentic intelligence information regarding Pakistan’s involvement, which India failed to provide. It will not be false to infer that India rejected Pakistan’s proposal out of the fear of being exposed.
On April 10, 2019 just few days before the Indian confession; a foreign delegation comprised of Indian based international journalists, ambassadors and defence attaches of various countries visited the Jabba, Balakot in KPK where India claims that militant camp was targeted. The visit was aimed on showing the ground realities to the world in context of false Indian claims. The visitors were allowed to freely interact with the locals; they were also shown bomb craters of the so called ‘surgical strike’ in barren open space which didn’t result in loss of human life or infrastructure. The visit of foreign delegation validated Pakistan’s stance of what happened on 26th February and now Sushma Swaraj’s statement further confirms it.
The February 2019 escalation brought Pakistan and India on the brink of a nuclear war. Pakistan initially affirmed to retaliate in case of any Indian military action, but responded wisely with ‘tit-for-tat’ based counter air strikes. The situation reached its maximum sensitivity when Pakistan struck back across Line of Control (LoC) and two Indian jets were shot down by PAF while one Indian pilot was captured alive. As a ‘peace gesture’ the pilot was later released. The ‘deterrence factor’ which was debated all the time during the crisis remained applicable even without the use of nuclear weapons.
The Indian General Elections can be considered as one of the factors behind this whole debacle. The General Elections 2019 have already started in India; Prime Minister Modi who has intentionally increased ‘war hysteria’ against Pakistan is believed to form government again. BJP has always relied on spreading hatred against Pakistan during election campaign to get maximum right wing extremist popular support. The current elections are also dominated by this factor but the politico-military humiliation which India and BJP have come across in the 2019 crisis has done a lot of damage to India domestically and internationally. Prime Minister Modi is taking every possible step to project the BJP extremist narrative vis-à-vis Pakistan. In this context the Indian test of Anti-Satellite (ASAT) weapon on 27th March and the threats to use Hydrogen Bomb a.k.a. ‘mother of nuclear bombs’ against Pakistan are being widely used by Modi in the public rallies.
Nonetheless, the war hysteria of Modi and BJP against Pakistan has been badly exposed by the February-March 2019 episode and its aftermath. The credibility of ‘surgical strike’ has been exposed by India itself. Despite realizing sensitivity of the situation and the existing vulnerability of the region, BJP’s election campaign is all based on promoting war hysteria against Pakistan. However, in wake of Indian war-like threats, it is to be kept in mind that the danger of a first ever nuclear conflict between the two countries has become even more pronounced because a conventional conflict could easily turn into a nuclear war any time. India needs to understand this fact that the stability of the South Asian region lies within the peaceful settlement of disputes instead of putting it at stake just for the sake of political objectives.
*Haris Bilal Malik is working as a Research Associate at Strategic Vision Institute (SVI) Islamabad.