Balakot, Budgram and India’s fantasy strikes

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The aerial military incursion by India across the Line of Control in Budgam and, allegedly, into Balakot in KP in the early hours of Tuesday morning represent the crossing of a red line by India. The Indian intrusion has raised disturbing questions; In Balakot they returned without the loss of any aircraft yet signaled to their domestic audience that their belligerence was brave and ensured action any time with impunity. There was no ‘element of surprise’ as claimed by New Delhi as the warmongering narrative by PM Modi had been on the uptick for a number of days. Following a similar attempt by the Indian forces, Pakistan decisively shut the operation down by destroying IAF aircrafts. It is telling that India has claimed and Pakistan has acknowledged that Indian munitions fired by Indian aircraft fell on KP soil. That itself is a shocking violation of Pakistani sovereignty that India ought never to have contemplated.

New Delhi took the stance that its alleged strikes in Balakot were “non-military pre-emptive action” against the Jaish in the face of “credible intelligence” No reference was made to either the Indian Air Force and the incident was written off entirely as “an intelligence-led operation” against a key Jaish facility. The fact remains; what is the difference if any between “non-military pre-emptive action” from a military one?

Following Balakot, Prime Minister Imran Khan yet again took the proverbial high road, pledged that Pakistan does not stand for war but it shall respond at a time and place of its choosing, an assertion that was reiterated by DG ISPR Maj Gen Asif Ghafoor in his news conference.

On Wednesday, within the span of 48 hours, New Delhi attempted a second incursion into Pakistani airspace. Pakistan Air Force (PAF) fighter jets shot down two Indian Air Force (IAF) MiG aircraft, killing two and taking one Indian pilot hostage. The spokesperson of the Foreign Office encapsulated Islamabad’s stance best in a statement released by the FO hours later – “The sole purpose of this action was to demonstrate our right, will, and capability for self-defense. We do not wish to escalate but are fully prepared if forced into that paradigm,” he asserted.

Any rational Indian policymaker would have recognized that Pakistan would reserve the right to retaliate against an attack on this country’s sovereign territory. International media had already seen through the alleged strike and spoke of Indian “claims” in Balakot.Furthermore, some pressing factual concerns have also been raised regarding the Balakot attack; How was Indian media so realistically confident of bombing of a target in Balakot? If the Indian Mirage-2000 did manage to take down 350 militants in its strikes, where are the pictures of the attack to prove it? According to defense analysts, the Mirage-2000 is supposed to be the best choice for shooting pictures of its targets. India media channels claimed bad weather on the inability to prove video or photographic evidence of their strikes, while other media sources in New Delhi claimed that the pictures were still being “processed.”

For India whose incumbent BJP government has portrayed both in action and words an awful spectacle of beating war drums, the shooting down of Indian fighter jets has gone on to prove that much of the Indian population does not understand what it has potentially triggered, while it has blindly celebrated the idea of war against Pakistan. If tensions with Pakistan escalates, history will not forgive Narendra Modi for using defence forces for his political mileage.

Common sense would recognize that military action by one nuclear armed country against another nuclear-armed state’s sovereign territory would virtually eliminate all other options for the latter, prompting a military response in self-defence.

The silence of the international community throughout this ordeal has been perhaps the most deafening. Lack of any serious condemnation or offers of mediation by world powers like the US, Russia, China or even international bodies created in essence to prevent war-like situations have meant that there is little pressure on India to accept Pakistan’s hand in dialogue and move towards a diplomatic handling of the impasse. It must be remembered that it is not Pakistan or India alone at risk of prompting a war reminiscent of the bloody 1971 conflict but that the entire region of one and a half billion people – which is only slowly recovering from decades of conflict – may be sent spiraling down the same dark hole again if New Delhi does not exercise caution.