There is a famous Egyptian proverb that, “be patient with a bad neighbor, he may face misfortune.” Something similar happened with India when it tried to provoke a peace-loving neighbor Pakistan on the 26th of February 2019 by fabricating a false flag operation in Balakot. But the swift retort by Pakistan was not only surprising but also fetched great global humiliation for Indian defense forces.
India has an elongated history of dramatization of false flag operations against Pakistan after accusing Pakistan of harboring terror sanctuaries in Pakistani administered part of Kashmir and infiltrating terror affiliates into the Indian side of Kashmir through Line of Control. Nonetheless, there is a perception in masses that the Indian government and establishment use the surgical strikes phenomenon as a tool to console public outrage, and such events are usually enacted whenever India is undergoing polls or Indian authorities want to distract public opinion in its favor. For example, Uri Surgical Strike was embellished to dissuade public pressure after the Uri terror attack, and the 2019 Balakot strike was staged to garner voters’ support for BJP in general elections that were conducted in April 2019.
On 18 September 2016, separatists in the deadliest assault against Indian tenant forces in Uri district of Jammu & Kashmir killed at least 19 soldiers and wounded 30. It was one of the deadliest attacks in the history of insurgency in the valley. The incident not only downed the morale of Indian troops but also ignited immense public wrath against the Indian govt demanding to counteract and avenge the Uri incident. Shattered under the public pressure, the Indian establishment as usual put the culpability of their ineptitude on Pakistan and planned enactment of what they called a surgical strike against presumed terror launch pads inside Azad Kashmir on 29 September 2016.
The entire drama was exposed effectively by Pakistan and then DG ISPR Lt General Asim Saleem Bajwa escorted foreign journalists of CNN, BBC, VOA, Reuters, AP, AFP, News Week, and BBC Urdu Service to the area where India claimed to execute a surgical strike. Journalists were provided with a full picture of the ground situation. They found no evidence of any kind of strike in the area, even the residents of the area repelled Indian assertions by designating it as propaganda.
Ignoring the embarrassment of the past, the obstinate Indian govt followed the lead of the Uri incident and repeated the theatre once again in 2019. On 14 February 2019, a suicide bomber in Pulwama rammed a convoy of Central Reserved Police Force (CRPF) of India leaving 40 Indian soldiers dead and several others injured. The incident left Indian forces in shock as they have never thought of an incident of such extent in the occupied valley.
Unsurprisingly, the Indian security establishment again collapsed under public pressure and put the entire liability of their security lapse over Pakistan. After finding itself in hot waters, the Indian establishment again decided to play the old trick to befool the public sentiment. So, on 26 February 2019 Indian authorities absurdly claimed that they have hit the so-called terror launch pad in Balakot and have avenged the Pulwama attack by killing several Jihadis in the camp. Later on, this was revealed that Indian fighter jets crossed over the LoC and fled the scene by dropping their payload hurriedly harming a few trees in the area.
Pakistan categorically condemned the airspace violation by the Indian air force and DG ISPR Major General Asif Ghafoor in a presser promised to surprise India by making her pay for violating the sovereignty and integrity of Pakistan. A day after the Indian misadventure, the Pakistan air force responded precisely and so effectively that it astonished the entire Indian defense fraternity. Pakistan air force accurately besieged the selected targets with the intent of not hitting Indian defense facilities.
The intense dogfight resulted in 2-0, Pakistan air force managed to down 2 Indian Mig-21 fighter jets, and one of the Indian air force pilot Wing Commander Abhinandan was apprehended after falling from the downed fighter jet. Furthermore, Indian forces were baffled so badly by the Pakistani response that they have targeted their own MI-17 chopper at Budgam. Indian Air Chief Marshal Rakesh Kumar Singh Bhadauria admitted that the gaffe was a big mistake.
To cover up this ignominy, Indian air forces claimed that they have downed the F-16 jet of Pakistan during the aerial combat on the 27th of February. As usual, the claim turned out to be incorrect and was rebutted by US authorities on the ground in Pakistan as the count of F-16 proved that no plane was missing and India tried to mislead the international community. Even Indian experts shed doubts over the downing of F-16 by a Mig-21 very openly in TV debates.
Later on, Pakistan handed over Wing Commander Abhinandan to India in a peace-mongering gesture in an attempt to de-escalate the tensions between both countries. The entire Balakot episode turned out to be nightmarish for India as it widely exposed vulnerabilities in Indian defense and raised serious questions over the war capabilities of Indian ground and aerial forces.
Moreover, the Indian government failed to provide concrete proof of Balakot strikes, Indian opposition especially Congress has also raised suspicions over Balakot surgical strikes claimed by the BJP govt. Rahul Gandhi and Navjot Singh Sidhu demanded validations and count of the dead in the strike. Meanwhile Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) in its satellite imagery suggested that there was no indication of damage on the site of the alleged strike. In short, the entire Balakot drama of India has backfired due to the efficacious response by Pakistan and the successful execution of “Operation Swift Retort”.
India’s jingoistic policies drew embarrassment at the global level as the faceoff exposed Indian fragility and inability of fighting a practical war, at the same time, Pakistan proved its dominance over India, both militarily and morally. Pakistan’s peace overtures are praised widely by the international community after acquitting Abhinandan as a peace gesticulation.
*The writer is Islamabad based freelance journalist and security analyst with a special focus on regional affairs. He can be reached at [email protected]