Operation Swift Retort: India’s Failed Strategic Deterrence To Counter PAF – OpEd


On February 26, 2019, the Indian airstrike on a so-called Indian-claimed militant training camp in Balakot, Pakistan, took place. The Indian government claimed that the strike had destroyed the training camp and killed a large number of militants, but Pakistan denied that any such camp existed at the location and stated that the Indian jets had dropped their payload in an empty forested area, causing no damage or casualties. Later on, international and domestic media visited the location and confirmed that Pakistan’s government claims that there were no terrorist training camps at that palace. 

Pakistan strongly condemned the Indian airstrike on Balakot and denied that any militant training camp was located in the area. Pakistan’s response to the Balakot airstrike was multi-pronged and included diplomatic, political, and military measures. Diplomatically, Pakistan immediately informed the international community about the Indian aggression and lodged a formal complaint with the United Nations. The Pakistani government also called for an emergency meeting of the National Command Authority, the country’s highest nuclear decision-making body, to review the security situation.

Politically, the Pakistani government vowed to respond to the Indian airstrike and announced that it would take “appropriate” measures to defend its sovereignty and territorial integrity. The government also convened a joint session of parliament to discuss the situation and called for a national day of mourning to honor the Pakistani soldiers who were killed in the subsequent military skirmish with India. Militarily, Pakistan responded to the Indian airstrike by conducting its airstrikes across the Line of Control (LoC) in the disputed region of Kashmir. The Pakistani military has targeted Indian installations, but India denied any such strikes had occurred.

Pakistan’s response to the Indian Balakot airstrike was called “Operation Swift Retort,” which included a series of military actions in which Pakistan Air Force (PAF) jets entered Indian airspace and engaged in aerial combat with Indian Air Force (IAF) aircraft. On February 27, 2019, the day after the Balakot airstrike, PAF jets entered Indian airspace and conducted airstrikes on military targets in Indian-administered Kashmir PAF successfully achieved its target during this operation. The PAF claimed to have targeted six Indian military installations and shot down two Indian fighter jets. One of the pilots, Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman, was captured by Pakistani forces and later released as a goodwill gesture. Indian Airforce also claimed that it has shot down PAF’s F-16 fighter jet in retaliation which has been declined by many defense analysts and PAF proved these claims wrong. 

The PAF’s response was praised by many in Pakistan as a strong show of force and a demonstration of the country’s military capability. The response of the Pakistan Air Force has completely failed the Indian strategic deterrence and exposed its so-called strategic edge over Pakistan which India claims due to its superior weaponry and arsenal.  Deterrence has various forms but a country can successfully deter its enemy only when it fulfills the 3c’s of deterrence. These 3c’s include Credibility, capability, and communication. Although the Indian army had claimed that it had the capability to country Pakistan because of its exceptional armory but the whole world of this exceptional weaponry lost its credibility at the need of the hour due to miscommunication. Even this miscommunication led to the cost Indian Air Force (IAF) MI-17 Helicopter which was shot down by the IAF air defense system misjudging it enemy aircraft on the date of 27 Feb 2019.

 The PAF’s response was commendable as it had acquired all its goals successfully during this operation. Overall, Pakistan’s response to the Balakot airstrike through Operation Swift Retort demonstrated the country’s willingness and ability to defend itself against Indian aggression, but also highlighted the potential risks of escalation and the need for diplomatic efforts to prevent further conflict. In an interview, Pravin Sawhney an ex-Indian Army personnel and editor of Force Magazine claimed that after Pakistan breached LoC on 27 Feb 2019 Indian government did not deter Pakistan as they did not have the political will Pakistan to retaliate and give response to Pakistan’s Airforce breach of LoC. 


Pakistan’s coordinated political, diplomatic, and military response shows Pakistan’s strong will to protect its integrity in case it will be challenged by any foreign country. Pakistan’s limited and befitted response to the Indian attempt to sabotage the peace of the region was commendable and gave the world a message that Pakistan is a responsible nuclear state that knows how to protect its sovereignty in case any country tries to challenge it. It also exposed Indian strategic deterrence in time of conflict. The PAF completely exposed the IAF’s mishandling of the situation on 27 Feb, shooting down their own Helicopter. 

Muhammad Ali Raza

Muhammad Ali Raza is an undergraduate peace and conflict studies student at the National University of Modern languages in Islamabad, and has worked as a research intern at various think tanks like the Pakistan Institute of Conflict and Security Studies Islamabad and the Institute of Strategic Studies Islamabad. Areas of interest are political tolerance and intrastate and ethnic conflicts.

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