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India Throwing Down The Gauntlet: Balakot Air Strikes – Analysis

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The IAF’s strikes on the terror camps in Balakot, Muzaffarabad and Chakoti in Pakistan mark a fundamental shift in New Delhi’s approach to its security.

By Harsh V. Pant*

Twelve days after Pakistan based Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) carried out the Pulwama attack, Indian Air Force’s (IAF) Mirage 2000 fighter jets struck the terror camps in Balakot, Muzaffarabad and Chakoti in Pakistan in a 21-minute pre dawn operation. In its first reaction, Pakistan Army’s Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) tweeted that “Indian Air Force violated Line of Control Pakistan. Pakistan Air Force immediately scrambled. Indian aircraft gone back.” But as the day ended, Pakistan foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi suggested that his country “holds the right to proper response” to what he termed a “grave aggression”.

What was significant was that India decided to strike the camp in Balakot in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, deep inside Pakistani territory and not merely in Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir (POK).

Indian foreign secretary Vijay Gokhale described India’s move as “a non-military pre-emptive action”, which was “specifically targeted at the JeM camp as part of Government of India commitment to fight the menace of terrorism”. By ‘nonmilitary’, New Delhi seems to be implying that it was not targeted at the military and there were no civilian casualties.

Even as anger in the country was palpable after the Pulwama attacks, the Narendra Modi government was carefully laying the groundwork for Tuesday’s strikes. For the last 12 days, it reached out to the international community systematically and made its case for isolating Pakistan. In light of the Indian action, last week’s India-Saudi Arabia joint statement — which called for rejecting terrorism as an instrument of State policy and the dismantling of terrorism infrastructures, as well as avenues for funding of terrorists ‘from all territories against other states’ — assumes a new meaning.

As a responsible global actor, India also used global platforms to marginalise Pakistan. It took on Pakistan at the International Court of Justice (ICJ), lobbied at the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) to keep Pakistan on its grey list, and managed to get the support of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) after Pulwama last week.

India has learnt from the past, when the international community would come down on India seeking de-escalation after every Pakistani provocation. It is now for Pakistan to decide if, and how far, it wants to climb up that ladder.

The global order has evolved to India’s advantage, and Pakistan has been slow in recognising this shift. Its nuclear rhetoric has become tiring and the world today blames Pakistan for global and regional problems. Global support to India after Pulwama and Pakistan’s defensive reaction to it are indicative of this. India was joined by Iran and Afghanistan in putting the blame for regional turmoil squarely at Pakistani doorstep.

Moreover, in the Modi government, Pakistan is encountering a political establishment that is willing to pay back in the same coin. Risk aversion of the past is passé. Pakistani military now has to bite the bullet, as the era of low-cost options seems to be ending. This is also an important marker in India’s approach to counter-terror, which has been hobbled by the Pakistani nuclear bluff. India has all but called that bluff, and Pakistan’s decision to downplay the strikes underlines Islamabad’s reluctance to retaliate.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi cannot be faulted for trying to reach out to Pakistan early on in his term. But when his outreach was reciprocated with little change in Pakistani behaviour, government of India changed the trajectory of its policy. And as this government’s term is ending, there is a clear sense of purpose in dealing with Pakistan. This is partly by design, but mostly due to Pakistan’s continuing intransigence.

Pakistan also seems to have got carried away with its seeming success in Afghanistan, where it views a negotiated settlement with the Taliban as its own victory. Rawalpindi also seems to have underestimated GoI’s resolve to respond effectively to terror strikes, especially at the time of elections. It is paying the price for its hubris.

As a society, we too should be clear that if this escalates, we should be ready to bear the costs for something we have long demanded from our political leaders. India will need a sustained campaign — diplomatic, economic and military — against Pakistan.

Terrorism from Pakistan will be with us for as long as a fundamental transformation in the institutional fabric of Pakistan does not materialise. And India should be ready to bear the costs, both internally and externally, if it wants a long-term solution to the problem called Pakistan.


This article originally appeared in Economic Times.

Observer Research Foundation

Observer Research Foundation

ORF was established on 5 September 1990 as a private, not for profit, ’think tank’ to influence public policy formulation. The Foundation brought together, for the first time, leading Indian economists and policymakers to present An Agenda for Economic Reforms in India. The idea was to help develop a consensus in favour of economic reforms.

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