The significance of the strikes is the strong signal sent to Pakistan that Pakistan continuing to raise the level of terrorism will not be tolerated by India.
|The Author is Former Director General of Information Systems and A Special Forces Veteran, Indian Army|
In a befitting response to the dastardly car bombing by Pakistan-sponsored Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) at Pulwama on February 14, the IAF struck the predominantly JeM terrorist camps at Balakot, Muzaffrabad and Chakothi across the Line of Control (LoC) in the early hours of February 26. Balakot in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) has multiple militant camps including the largest concentration of JeM, undertaking terror attacks across both eastern and western borders of Pakistan. The suddenness and ferocity of precision bombings was never expected by Pakistan. Post the attacks, the Pakistan defence minister was seen stuttering on TV that the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) was ready "but it was dark"; as if PAF is blind at night, sleeps with terrorists by night, or has not been issued 'torches' to operate by night. The fact that Pakistan was taken completely by surprise despite President Trump cautioning that India was planning "something big" indicates that Pakistani military (the real rulers) and puppet Imran Khan were overconfident and reveling in the power of terrorism they were generating.
The strike element used by the IAF included 12 Mirage 2000 aircraft fitted with Israeli targeting pods, ex-IAF base at Gwalior armed with 500/1000lb laser-guided bombs; one AEWC aircraft from Bhatinda and one mid-air refueling tanker aircraft from Agra. Heron surveillance UAVs also supported the mission. Mirage 2000 crossed the LoC flying low level, their laser pods 'painting' the target and dropped their deadly arsenal with precision at the chosen targets, while Su-30 aircrafts provided air cover at the LoC and the Embraer AEW&C helped coordinate the mission. The whole operation was over in 17 minutes. There is debate whether the Mirages crossed the LoC or not but considering the distance of Balakot from the LoC, they obviously did. Pakistan may like to claim IAF crossing the LoC an act of war, but Pakistan has been undertaking such acts of war over the past decade plus through several terrorist attacks of varying magnitude, some very major. The significance of the strikes is the strong signal sent to Pakistan that Pakistan continuing to raise the level of terrorism to test India's level of tolerance had violated India's redlines with the Pulwama car bombing. It is not relevant that Modi was forced to take such resolute decision faced with elections; it is relevant that India did so. The IAF had not crossed the LoC even during the Kargil conflict. Hence PAF was confident it would not do so now. Unlike the Indian raids in POK against terror launch pads in September 2016, termed 'surgical strikes', which Pakistan had denied; this time Pakistan had no option but to acknowledge that the IAF strikes indeed took place. But Pakistan has called it 'uncalled aggression' and has warned India of an appropriate response at the "time and place of its choosing". India has called the strikes pre-emptive which would be supported by majority nations barring few, with countries like China harping on tempers on both sides to cool down. The official statement by the USA before the strike that "India has the right for self-defence" obviously included self-defence against Pakistan's cross border terrorism.
The strike element used by the IAF included 12 Mirage 2000 aircraft fitted with Israeli targeting pods, ex-IAF base at Gwalior armed with 500/1000lb laser-guided bombs; one AEWC aircraft from Bhatinda and one mid-air refueling tanker aircraft from Agra. Heron surveillance UAVs also supported the mission.
Article 51 of the UN Charter categorically states that nothing shall impair the inherent right of an individual or collective self-defence if an armed attack occurs against a member of the UN. India is a member of the UN and under constant terror attack by Pakistan. India's action of 'self-defence' through air strikes in the instant case could have been taken even on earlier occasions post major terror strikes by Pakistan. Interestingly, post the Pulwama terror attack, a Pakistani on Twitter had requested India should help finish-off the JeM and LeT. This brings us to the question will Pakistan retaliate, what the retaliation could be and is India ready to handle it. That Pakistan will certainly retaliate must be acknowledged. The backside of the Pakistani army that never has won a war but prided on its irregular warfare prowess, has been set on fire. Imran Khan aka Taliban Khan is the army's puppet. In the words of Husain Haqqani, "Khan is the product of the military's aversion to a genuinely popular civilian politician in power, backed by an electoral mandate, who might alter the country's overall direction."But that is not the only reason of Imran's aversion to India. He is the nephew of Lt. Gen. AAK Niazi who had to surrender to India along with 93,000 Pakistan prisoners-of-war in East Pakistan when India liberated Bangladesh. In the days to come, Pakistan will holler that the IAF has killed hundreds of 'innocent' Pakistani civilians.
India should be ready for escalation in terrorist attacks in regions also other than in J&K. Such attacks in the hinterland using indigenous sources lying dormant, which Pakistan has laboriously built over decades, would make it difficult to be traced back to Pakistan.
It is unlikely that Pakistan will attempt air strikes against India and before the IAF strikes, Musharraf had warned that if Pakistan uses one bomb, India will use 20. That should put a damper on Pakistan's tail wagging. But India should be ready for escalation in terrorist attacks in regions also other than in J&K; Punjab, NorthEast, Siliguri corridor using ISI-LeT, South India which has been dormant so far, as also metropolises. Such attacks in the hinterland using indigenous sources lying dormant, which Pakistan has laboriously built over decades, would make it difficult to be traced back to Pakistan. The focus must also remain on quality of the terror attack, which may be the "surprise" Pakistan is now talking about. This could include the use of CBRN, drone attacks, downing service / civil aircraft and hijacks. Meanwhile Pakistan would increase shelling of villages in J&K. This warrants high degree of preparedness. While IAF's precision airstrikes sent a strong message to Pakistan, prudence demands we refrain from jingoism like we will root out terrorism completely. Killing of 350 odd terrorists should be seen in the context of Pakistan producing a million radicals annually. Besides, Pakistan will continue getting support from countries like China, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Qatar and even UAE, latter economically. That China will be advising Pakistan for subsequent course of actions is also unquestionable. If the US could take a cue from India and target terror sanctuaries inside Pakistan on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border through couple of cruise missiles that would really bring the Pakistani military to its senses, but that is unlikely.
Finally, India must acknowledge that the counter to sub-conventional war is sub-conventional, not just surgical strikes and air strikes. We need to take the sub-conventional war into Pakistan in conjunction Afghanistan and Iran. And let us rid J&K of Articles 35A and 370 without further loss of time.