Sunday, June 20th, 2021 14:48:59

Air strikes paradigm shift

Updated: March 7, 2019 1:11 pm

It took the Indian Air Force (IAF) just about 21 minutes to demolish the terror camps run by Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) across the Line of Control. The IAF’s 12 Mirage 2000 fighter jets carried out precision strikes on Jaish terror camps in Balakot, situated some 24 km from Muzaffarabad. The air strikes, first of its kind in decades, were over by 3:53 am even before Pakistani jets could pose any serious challenge.

Confirming the air strike, the government termed it a non-military pre-emptive strike carried out on the basis of credible intelligence that JeM was planning suicide attacks in various parts of the country. The terror camp was located in thick forest on a hilltop far away from any civilian presence, Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale said at a press conference in New Delhi on the day of the strikes.

The ministry of external affairs also confirmed that a large number of JeM terrorists and commanders were killed in the action. The JeM’s Balakot camp was headed by terror mastermind Masood Azhar’s brother-in-law Maulana Yousuf Azhar alias Ustad Ghouri.

“India has been repeatedly urging Pakistan to take action against the JeM to prevent jihadis from being trained and armed inside Pakistan. Pakistan has taken no concrete actions to dismantle the infrastructure of terrorism on its soil,” the MEA said in a statement.

“Credible intelligence was received that JeM was attempting another suicide terror attack in various parts of the country, and the fidayeen jihadis were being trained for this purpose. In the face of imminent danger, a preemptive strike became absolutely necessary,” it added.

Revenge for Pulwama terror attack

The IAF’s action comes exactly 13 days after a Jaish-e-Mohammad suicide attacker rammed his explosives-laden vehicle into a convoy of Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) in Jammu and Kashmir’s Pulwama killing 40 security personnel. A couple of days after the dastardly attack, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had said that security forces have been given a free hand to deal with terrorists.

“Security forces have been given complete freedom, the blood of the people is boiling…Our neighbouring country, which has been isolated internationally, thinks such terror attacks can destabilise us, but their plans will not materialise,” PM Modi had said.

Announcing that India had struck the “biggest training camp” of the Jaish-e-Mohammad in Balakot in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in the wee hours of February 26th, in which “a very large number” of JeM terrorists and their trainers were “eliminated”, the BJP led  NDA government, effectively, drew a new red line in its strategic calculus with Pakistan. This not only challenges the conventional escalation ladder between the two nuclear-armed countries but, after the post- Uri surgical strike, sends a strong signal to Islamabad that there will be a high cost for not tightening the terror tap on its soil. The strike also tests Pakistan’s retaliatory response as New Delhi shifts its focus to a renewed diplomatic outreach to the global community to persuade and convince Islamabad to avoid any step that may precipitate escalation.


  1. This was the first time since 1971 that the Indian Air Force breached the Line of Control and entered into Pakistani territory. Even during the Kargil war, the Indian Air Force had not attempted crossing the border or the Line of Control.
  2. 12 Mirage 2000 jets took part in the operation. They dropped 1,000-kg laser-guided bombs to destroy at least six terrorist terror camps inside Pakistan-occupied Kashmir and Balakot. The Mirage 2000 planes are quite old and have been recently upgraded at Hindustan Aeronautics Limited’s facility in Bengaluru.
  3. The multi-role aircraft made by French company Dassault Aviation is the backbone of the Indian Air Force. The same company makes Rafale. Mirage 2000 can also carry a 20 kilo tonne nuclear bomb.
  4. The aircraft crossed over at 3 am even as Pakistani armed forces were on high alert. The Indian formation managed to avoid detection. When Pakistan Air Force noticed the bombarding, it scrambled its jets but the formation was not easy to tackle for them. By the time, more aircraft took off from Abbottabad, the operation was over and Indian jets had safely returned home. The Balakot bombing took just about 90 seconds and the entire operation was over in 21 minutes.
  5. Government sources estimate the number of terrorists killed to be between 200 and 300. Yousuf Azhar, one of the hijackers of IC-814, may be one of those killed. Yousuf, is a brother-in-law of Jaish-e-Mohammed chief Masood Azhar, who was released after IC-814 hijacking and went on the form the terrorist group.
  6. India said this was not a revenge attack but a pre-emptive strike led by intelligence inputs and was ‘non-military’ in nature. A non-military preemptive strike technically means the operation targeted no military installation. The Ministry of External Affairs statement said the intelligence inputs were precise and Indian action took extreme care to not cause civilian casualty.
  7. Pakistan pre-empted India’s announcement by claiming Pakistan Air Force had chased away Indian Air Force intruders who then unloaded their payload in haste, damaging some trees. Pakistan media also denied any such strike and said that only person suffered minor injuries in Balakot.
  8. Pakistan has said the country will retaliate even as it denied any damage in the Indian strikes. Members of its national assembly demanded that Pakistan must force Organisation of Islamic Countries (OIC) to withdraw its summit invitation to India, accorded a guest of honour this year.
  9. India launched a renewed diplomatic offensive by briefing diplomats from foreign missions in Delhi, starting with envoys of China and the United Kingdom.
  10. There is political unity in India on the action against the terrorist group. Most Opposition parties have expressed support for the airstrikes and praised the Indian Air Force for a successful operation.

Courtesy- The Indian Express

Airstrikes signals  shift in policy

After the Pulwama attack the Indian government faced a problem which has persisted ever since Pakistan has acquired the nuclear deterrence capability. In simpler words, the problem deals with the India’s inability to stop Pakistan from using its rogue ‘ deep state actors’ like the Jaish-e-Mohammad and Lashkar-e-Taiba in waging a war against the country. For the Pakistan Army, nuclear weapons have provided the impunity to pursue a sub-conventional war against India. Over the last two decades, successive governments in Delhi have tried different strategies to enhance deterrence against Pakistan-sponsored attacks. They included political measures — comprehensive dialogue on all issues including Kashmir, economic cooperation and people-to-people contact. Efforts at peaceful persuasion were thwarted, as Pakistan pulled back repeatedly from significant political agreements. Among the coercive steps that India sought to pursue were the mobilisations of international diplomatic pressure against Pakistan, massing of troops on the land border and naval ships in the Arabian Sea, and the so-called surgical military strikes across the Line of Control in Kashmir. None of these worked because of the political constraint imposed by nuclear weapons.

The danger of escalation to the nuclear level and the fear of international intervention in the Kashmir dispute with Pakistan have had a self-deterrent effect on Delhi. But, this air strike, carried out deep inside Pakistan territory, is not only a big statement made by India, but also shows the confidence of the political leadership of the country. This is new India. IAF has struck deep inside Pakistan. Since 1971war IAF jets have not crossed LoC and struck Pakistan territory, so in that sense this is not only historic but also unprecedented. The statement made by the Foreign Secretary after the strikes had a measured tone and it put the onus on Pakistan to check on its actions. Pakistan faces a sticky situation as they have no grounds to strike back, since India unlike Pakistan does not harbour any terrorist.

Brahma Chellaney, a defence and strategic affairs expert is of the view that India has sent a “chilling message for Pakistan’s terrorism sponsors”. In a series of tweets, Chellaney has said that, “…The ISI headquarters in Islamabad and GHQ in Rawalpindi are much closer than Balakot to the Ambala airbase, from where Indian warplanes carried out the airstrikes with impunity. The military generals find they have no clothes.” Chellaney has also said that the use of air power by India signals that it is not afraid to escalate response to call Pakistan’s nuclear bluff.

The one thing which got cleared with these Airstrikes is that India will not allow a repeat of Pulwama or Uri or Nagrota. This act can be termed as  “unprecedented” and a “paradigm shift” in India’s policy on Pakistan. Comparing it to the US operation to kill Osama bin Laden, analysts explains that “The paradigm shift is in the way India deals with terrorism. Not in Kargil or even during the 1971 war did India cross into Pakistani territory. This is comparable only to US’s operation to take out Osama bin Laden.”

Immediately after the strikes our  Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale, along with officials of Ministry of External Affairs, met with and engaged envoys and heads of missions of all major countries and regional blocs to brief them of the action that was carried out by the Air Force of India. Parallel briefings were held for various envoys by the foreign secretary and divisional secretaries where the thrust was on a few specific points. Diplomatic sources quoted Gokhale as saying, “India did not have an option”.

Foreign Secretary Gokhale held a media briefing on country’s military action, where he said, “Credible intelligence was received that Jaish-e-Mohammed was attempting another suicide terror attack in various parts of the country and the fidayeen jihadis were being trained for this purpose. In the face of imminent danger, a preemptive strike became absolutely necessary.”

India also made it clear that the attack was a preemptive, non-military strike targeting militants and not civilians or the State of Pakistan.”This is not against the people of Pakistan but against terrorism,” a source quoted Gokhale briefing the envoys. India also made it very clear at the briefing with diplomats that they are not looking at war, they want cordial ties with Pakistan but terrorism needs to be addressed and ended.

The action carried out by India is being watched world over. Some are even concerned about relations between India and Pakistan but almost everyone is urging Pakistan to “dismantle” terror infrastructure on its soil. The diplomats, who were talking with India Today TV outside South Block where the meeting took place, didn’t divulge details of the meeting but were pleased with the “responsible” manner with which India handled the situation.

Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne, in a statement said, “India’s Foreign Secretary has stated that India has now conducted operations targeting terrorist groups based in Pakistan. Pakistan must take urgent and meaningful action against terrorist groups in its territory, including Jaish-e-Mohammed, which has claimed responsibility for the 14 February bombing, and Lashkar-e-Taiba.” France’s foreign ministry also endorsed India’s action and said, “France recognises India’s legitimacy to ensure its security against cross-border terrorism and asks Pakistan to put an end to the operations of terrorist groups established on its territory.”

Indian diplomatic machinery is working meticulously can be gauged by the statement of Ambassador Castellano, Dean of the Diplomatic Corps and Dominican Republic’s envoy to India. He aid that the message that they received to convey to their respective headquarters was that “it was a direct attack to limited and specific objectives with no civilian or military casualties, and it was expressed that there is no intention to escalate and will act in restraint and responsibility, based on credible intelligence that further attacks were planned in India.”

External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj also dialled few of her counterparts in major countries, including US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to brief them about the airstrikes on Pakistan’s Balakot. Sushma Swaraj was in China for the Russia-India-China (RIC) trilateral talks where sources said Pakistan dominated parts of her talks with her Chinese and Russian counterparts.

Changing the course

With the advent of Modi era, the policy vis-a-vis Pakistan has changed considerably. The recalibration of the policy towards Pakistan has a two-pronged approach. One prong consists of not holding formal talks until Pakistan stops using terrorism as an instrument of state policy against India. And the second prong involves retaining the right of retaliation against those elements and locations along the Line of Control (LoC) that are complicit in perpetrating cross border terrorism. In essence, India’s aim has been to gain leverage over Pakistan by striking it where it hurts the most.

The genesis of this policy lay in the repeated failures of past endeavours of successive governments to stop Pakistan from employing terrorism as an instrument of state policy through bilateral talks alone. The strategy and policies of earlier governments seemed to suggest that talks and terrorism can co-exist and gave an impression that India for the want of peace, was allowing Pakistan to gain leverage on all platforms, whether on front or on table. But, now, India has changed and so does it policy.

The change in the policy towards Pakistan came with a assessment in the political establishment that, Pakistan is unlikely to change its policy of sponsoring terrorism given the vested interests of the Pakistan Army. This led to the conclusion that unless India could hurt the principal architect of Pakistan’s Kashmir policy, that is, the Army, terrorism would continue unabated, with only minor adjustments to tailor violence in response to the severity of Indian and international reactions. Even a common person of India could have assessed that the Pakistan Army remains the bulwark of an anti-India policy and more so the policy on Kashmir. It was also clear to the policy making elites of the country that the planning, preparation, facilitation and execution of terrorism in J&K could not be accomplished without the active support and involvement of the Pakistan Army. Under these circumstances, it became utmost necessary that India needed to create the requisite leverages against the Pakistan Army in order curb terrorism.

As a result, the last couple of years have witnessed an evolution in India’s approach towards Pakistan and its employment of terrorism as an instrument of policy. In the aftermath of the aurstrikes it was expected that there would be Pakistani military retaliation to the same, which could raise the existing threshold of weapons and quantum of force employed all across the border areas.. However, the decision to strike within Pakistan was premised on sound fundamentals. One, India possessed the ability to gain a military advantage over Pakistan, irrespective of the level of escalation. Two, there existed an understanding of the escalation to be followed after the strikes and adequate measures were taken to neutralise the Pakistani misadventures. This understanding included the limits beyond which Pakistan was unlikely to go, despite disproportionate punishment by India.

Country in safe hands

“I want to assure the people that the country is in safe hands. There is nothing above the nation,” Prime Minister Narendra Modi said in a public rally in Churu, Rajasthan, in his first remarks after the strike. These air strikes have gone several steps ahead of the “surgical strikes” of 2016, when India attacked militant camps across the LoC after Indian soldiers were killed in an attack by Pakistan-backed militants.

The apparent ease with which Indian air force fighters flew 80km into Pakistan, undetected exposes the rudimentary capability of Pakistani air defences. For now, we have achieved our aims. Pakistan is unlikely to raise the ante beyond a point, given that escalating tension is a game with uncertain outcomes. In the mean time, , the military has been placed on alert, with leave of personnel restricted. The air force is patrolling airspace, while the Navy, which had been involved in a major exercise, has shifted to combat mode. Additionally, security forces in Kashmir have been boosted significantly, with the Indian government readying for the possibility of increased militant activity backed by Pakistan. So, it can be said that country is in safe hands.

By Nilabh Krishna

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *