Traditionally, India is known as a soft and predictable state completely vying for peace for decades in the world polity. This image has undergone a change overnight with the nation emerging as a formidable force ready to do a tit for tat in the spirit of "Let the punishment fit the crime". The country has lost its people and material assets to terrorism inflicted by the Westerly neighbour for too long. Terrorists and their sponsors from the other side of the border have never shown any remorse for their inhuman acts or a kinder approach towards the country's constant peace overtures and initiatives. Ever since this spree of terrorist violence was unleashed in 1970s, even by conservative estimates about 20,000 lives have been lost and over 30,000 injured in more than 12,000 small and big terrorist attacks in Kashmir and other parts of the country. With the recent air strike at Balakot terrorist camp and two other targets in Pakistan on 26 February 2019 in retaliation of over 40 CRPF men killed at Pulwama in a suicidal attack organized by Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM), India has given a clear signal that it is no longer willing to act a sitting duck at the hands of perpetrators within or outside country.
After the recent Indian air strikes at Balakot and other targets, it is pretty clear that the enemies of nation would no longer sleep in peace. Notwithstanding cynicism raised by the foreign media unable to shed their colonial bent of mind, constant denial and conflicting claims from Pakistan and the opposition cry due to their anti-government role and interests, perhaps feeling insecure when the Parliamentary Election is round the corner, the fact remains that the Indian Air Force indeed hit the terror camps with a high degree of precision on 26 February destroying a large number of the hard core and trainee terrorists including their trainers besides causing enormous damage to their infrastructure, arms and ammunition. While pitching for the numbers of actually killed and extent of damage to the infrastructure, the skeptics and cynics forget to appreciate India's capability and ability to penetrate deep into the enemy territory undetected, accomplish the task unchallenged and uninterrupted before returning unscathed at home. Consequently, the enemies are now feeling unsafe and the erstwhile safe havens of terror are no long safer.
I would raise a simple query for those who doubt the Indian Air Force operation and/or Government's intention. It is everybody's knowledge that the exchange of fire from both sides at the Line of Control (LOC) is a perennial feature in Jammu and Kashmir. So if nothing really happened on 26 February at Balakot as claimed by the military and political brass in Pakistan, then why did dozens of Pakistani fighter planes scramble to enter Indian airspace on 27 February only to abort and flee when challenged? Why has Jaba hilltop at Balakot been cordoned off by Pakistan military and access denied to Reuter and such other media teams even after two weeks of the Indian bombing in the area? Now information from the independent sources indeed suggests that the number of causalities was heavy and the hub of the JeM terrorists at Balakot has been destroyed. After the Pulwama attack, there were reports that Pakistani military and ISI are shifting terrorists from the forward camps to safe locations deep inside Pakistan fearing reprisal from the Indian armed forces, and Balakot was one such biggest and safest camp.
As for as India is concerned, Indian Foreign Secretary and senior service officers of three services gave short and crisp press briefings on 26, 27 and 28 February. According to this, based on a credible intelligence about the JeM planning more suicide terror attack(s) in the country and the fidayeen jihadis being trained for this purpose, the Indian Air Force took a non-military pre-emptive strike on 26 February on the JeM's biggest training camp at Balakot, Pakistan wherein a large number of terrorists, trainers and senior commanders were eliminated. Following day, the Pakistan Air Force targeted Indian military installations and in the counter air operations, one Pakistani F-16 fighter was shot down and India lost one MiG-21 Bis with its pilot gone missing. The Indian Air Force also produced damaged parts of an AIM-120 AMRAAM Missile used by the downed F-16 jet along with other collateral evidences in support of their claim. Later Pakistan admitted that the missing Indian pilot was in their custody and after intense diplomatic and other efforts, the release of the Indian pilot was secured after two days.
As a section of the international media, Indian opposition leaders and Pakistan soon started a deliberate campaign to suggest failure of the Indian air strike in hitting the targets and any significant casualties or damage to the stated terror camp, the Indian Home Minister was constrained to disclose the intelligence input of the National Technical Research Organization (NTRO) that about 300 mobile phones were active at the Balakot facility on the day of strike and none was found active there post-strike. This would mean that at least 250-300 people were present in the terrorist camp when the Indian fighter jets targeted the camp in the wee hours. Few people in India or elsewhere know that the NTRO is a highly specialized technical intelligence gathering agency working under the Indian National Security Advisor in the Prime Minister's Office since 2004. Later the Air Chief retorted to an irksome query in a press briefing that the Indian Air Force accomplished the task assigned to them with precision and it was not their job to count corpses on the ground.
In a technological age where a far greater war is fought by all outsight the battle field on the internet, the electronic media and even the YouTube is flooded with claims and counter-claims on the subject. For illustration, citing satellite imageries from the Planet Labs Inc, a San Francisco-based private satellite operator, the Reuters News Agency (HQrs UK) published that the images are virtually unchanged since April 2018 photo of the facility and the religious school run by JeM appears to be still standing. Here remarkable is the choice of words; while citing it a religious school (endorsing Pakistan and JeM), the news agency is not even willing to call it a terror camp or terrorist training facility. This is despite the fact that the correspondents of the same agency also conceded that the Jaba hilltop has been cordoned off by the Pakistani military and they were not allowed access to the site citing technical/security reasons.
Yet another journalist of Pakistani Geo News, Hamid Mir, allegedly reporting from the ground held that the only damage caused in air strike was felling of a few trees, a minor crack in a house and minor injury to a person due to falling debris of the damaged house. On the contrary, another leaked video of a little over two minutes duration is viral on the social media wherein some Pakistani soldiers are seen consoling civilians in a location possibly in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. One army official is seen admitting the death of 200 people in the air strike and justifying jihad as holy religious duty of Allah's loved ones. The fact is the truth about the exact causalities and infrastructure damages in the air strike is a closely guarded secret of the Pakistan army and ISI, and outside world would know only what is revealed by them.
It is, however, possible to visualize likely scenario from the revelation of the NTRO and learning how the attack weapons viz. Spice-2000 precision-guided bombs used by the Indian Air Force actually work. The SPICE (smart, precise impact and cost-effective) is an Israeli EO/GPS-guided bomb that utilizes satellite guidance and electro-optical guidance in the same bomb to provide drop-and-forget and operate in all weather and light conditions with extremely high precision. Apart from the multiple-guidance facility, the Spice has ability to be pre-flight fed with multiple targets (up to 100) with their imageries and actual target later selected by the pilot inflight. It also has a long glide range allowing the striking aircraft to release bomb at the target without being exposed to the short and medium range enemy air defence systems. Once the bomb is released into a guided trajectory duly selecting the target, it is certain to strike the target with almost negligible chances of failure. Therefore it is unlikely that the Air Force would have missed its targets in a pre-planned and well-conceived operation irrespective of what skeptics and cynics say nationally and internationally.
International Opinion and Media Reaction
Barring China, governments of almost all major Western countries including US, UK and France, Russia, Japan and neighbours in the South-Asian region condemned the JeM sponsored terror attack on Pulwama and endorsed subsequent Indian air strike on terrorist camps in Pakistan in self-defence. Organization of the Islamic Cooperation comprising of 57 member countries even invited India's foreign minister to participate in a summit on 1st March as a "Guest of Honour" despite awful opposition and even boycott by Pakistan. China has, however, once gain stalled (4th time) the joint move made by France, US and UK in the United Nations Security Council to declare Azhar Masood as a global terrorist. It is of common knowledge that Pakistan is harbouring and supporting JeM Chief in his terrorist ventures against India for over two decades now. Despite knowing well that Pakistan is a global terror hub and a serious threat for the regional security and stability, China continues to support and use it as a strategic asset against India in the same manner as Pakistan treats various terrorist groups against India.
I have keenly watched the Western media for long, particularly ones like British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) news, New York Times (NYT), Washington Post, and so on, and regrettably often found their reporting utterly biased and misrepresenting the facts. The present series of events from Pulwama attack, Indian air strike at Balakot and subsequent developments were not an exception and have been grossly misreported by this media. A few instances are quoted here to make the point.
- The BBC constantly referred to the Indian State Kashmir as the "Indian-administered Kashmir" just because Pakistan disputes it while the state was law-fully integrated with India in 1947. On 27 February, the BBC published false claims of Pakistan of downing two Indian fighter jets and capturing two Indian pilots while the facts reported by the Indian side didn't receive same coverage. The fact was that Both Pakistan and India had lost one aircraft each, F-16 Falcon and Mig-21 Bishon respectively; one Indian pilot safe landed in Pakistan-occupied-Kashmir was detained while the Pakistani pilot died of injuries incurred during the ejection and thrashing by the local civilians.
- The Reuter agency doubted the Indian version of the air strike and damage caused to the terrorist camp at Jaba hilltop, Balakot despite the fact that their teams were thrice prevented access to the bombed site at the hilltop by the Pakistan army citing technical/security reasons.
- Al Zazeera, a Qutar based media network, called the terrorist camp as a religious school in the northeastern Pakistan and JeM terrorists as fighters suggesting that the school still appears to be standing days after Indian claim of destroying its targets.
- The New York Times story published recently linked the air strike with the Indian parliamentary elections under a title "In India's Election Season, an Explosion Interrupts Modi's Slump". After it was trolled by many patriotic Indians, its e-edition came out under a slightly modified title "In India's Election Season, a Bombing Interrupts Modi's Slump". In the same article, doubts have been raised that India's air strikes probably missed their targets and that "...military adventurism backfired". While being unsavoury at many points, the NYT has refrained from recognizing the Pulwama attack as an act of terror while attempting to link it to the upcoming General Elections in India.
Apart from what the Indian Air Force revealed about its operation and consequent damages to the identified targets, the India Today TV's investigative reporters have now captured residents of Balakot and some local police officials admitting on tape that the Indian strikes caused military casualties too, besides the annihilation of terrorists and infrastructure at site. The Times Now TV channel has even produced some satellite imageries to prove the point. In a video viral on social media, the uniformed Pakistani official is seen consoling fellow civilians, "...200 Banda upar gaya tha...inke naseeb me likha tha shahadat...yeh rutba Allah ke kuch khaas bando ko naseeb hota hai..." (200 men were killed...they were destined to attain martyrdom...this glory is bestowed by Allah to only few loved ones). Ordinarily, responsible governments do not indulge in cheap publicity by revealing graphic details of such operations for security reasons but more details from independent sources are bound to surface in due course.
Regrettably, the NYT and few other media houses cited above are not the only global media sources pushing one-sided and biased stories. One can understand the psychology and intent of the particular section of Western media unable to appreciate Indian perspective due to their colonial past and racial prejudice. They accord similar treatment in reporting of news related to many countries of Asia, Africa and South America. The fact that India is unstoppable and fast emerging as an economic and military superpower on the world map is unpalatable to many intellectuals and media in the West. Consequently, it appears to be a deliberate attempt on the part of the agencies like the NYT and Reuters to play down the nature of Pulwama terror attack or Indian accomplishment in their fight against the terror. Of course whether they side with India or Pakistan is their choice and prerogative but linking heinous terror crimes and loss of human lives with the General Election in India or even glorifying terrorists as fighters is preposterous, insensitive and injustice to the victims across the globe. Giving due regard to the profession of journalism, it they cannot report incidents in their true perspective, minimum they could do is to retain neutrality in reporting.
Constant Volte-face & Topsy-turvy of Pakistan
Pakistan has a long history of volte-face, double speaks and sustained lies; it boasts of a democratically elected government but the general perception and belief worldwide is that it is the Pakistani military in Pakistan that actually rules and runs the country. A few instances of volte-face, double speaks and lies of the hostile neighbour are cited here.
When India mounted economic, political and diplomatic pressure on Pakistan after Pulwama attack, Pakistan prime minister asked India to give evidence of JeM involvement for them to proceed against the group. Immediately after the suicide attack on the CRPF convoy, the Pakistan-based JeM had publicly claimed responsibility. During the last two decades, JeM is responsible for numerous terrorist incidents including major attacks on Indian Parliament and Jammu & Kashmir Assembly in 2001, Pathankot Air Base and Uri in 2016, and current Pulwama attack. Fact is that Pakistan has never taken any credible action on the evidences provided in the past and has again rejected dossier handed over by India after Pulwama attack citing inadequate evidence. Reportedly, the dossier handed over to Pakistan contained specific details of JeM's complicity in Pulwama terror attack, the presence of JeM terror camps and its leadership in Pakistan, including the details of terrorists from Balakot, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
During the current face-off, Pakistani foreign minister conceded in an interview to CNN that Masood Azhar was in Pakistan but was "unwell", so much that he "couldn't even leave his house". A Chinese minister visited Pakistan recently and following his visit, the military spokesperson of Pakistan army took a U-turn in a public statement that the JeM does not exist at all on the Pakistan soil. It is now well known globally how China is hand-in-glove with Pakistan in protecting JeM Chief Azhar Masood in the United Nations Security Council. Only two days back, China has thwarted fourth attempt of the Security Council to declare Masood as global terrorist misusing its veto power against the joint proposal of France, US and UK.
After the Indian air strike at Balakot on 26 February, Pakistan has been in constant denial mode of any deep penetration by the Indian Air force in their territory. At the same time, Pakistan army has denied access to the site for media teams that have visited Balakot on fact finding mission so far. Then there is no plausible explanation as to why they intruded the Indian airspace in an offensive mode with almost a dozen supersonic fighter jets on 27 February when the Indians had caused no harm to their men or material.
Pakistan claimed that they had shot down two Indian planes and captured three Indian pilots on 27 February. A little later they said that they had two Indian pilots; one in custody and the other admitted in hospital with injuries received. By end of the day, this narrative again changed when they admitted that they had only one Indian pilot in custody. There is credible information that one Pakistani F-16 was shot down by the Indian pilot before his own Mig-21 Bis crashed but Pakistan has neither admitted the loss of the fighter jet nor the casualty of the Pakistani pilot. During the Kargil war too, they had refused to accept the dead bodies of their soldiers because they pleaded all along that the war was fought by the Kashmiri militants. Ironically, though the US is supporting India in the latter's war on terror but it is unlikely that it will take action against Pakistan for the misuse of F-16 jets that were supplied reportedly on the conditions of their use only against counter-terror operations and self-defence. There is yet another reason; the US is the largest arms supplier globally and the news about the loss of F-16 fighter against a less advanced Russian jet would be counterproductive to the global interests of the US arms manufacture companies.
Bangarang and Melee by Opposition in India
Whenever a national crisis precipitates on account of external aggression or internal disturbances of a greater magnitude, the first and foremost requisite is to evolve a national consensus on the commonality of approach by the government and opposition parties so as to avoid giving impressions of a divided and weak house. Immediately after the Balakot strikes, the Home Minister called for an all-party meeting to apprise opposition leaders of the compelling circumstances and government's approach and action to deal with the evolving contingencies. At any given point, the onus of action remains on the government and opposition's support and suggestions are solicited so that the entire nation faces the eventuality as a single and cohesive force. In the instant case, all parties unequivocally endorsed the government action and assured them free hand and support during the crisis. However, this bonhomie and truce barely lasted for about 48 hours and the entire opposition started showing their true fangs and colour leading to a political conundrum.
Let there be no doubt that the entire Indian Air Force operation deep inside the territory of Pakistan at Balakot was an extremely delicate and risky venture. It was more so because after the Pulwama terrorist attack, the entire nation was agitated and tempers were running high; so it will be foolish to assume that Pakistan was not aware and prepared to counter any Indian retaliation. Notwithstanding the risk, the air strike on the Balakot terrorists' camp was spectacular in terms of its audacity and success, and the Indian Air Force deserves full marks and appreciation for their flawless speed, precision and surprise. Instead of realizing these facts and being proud of the Indian Defence Services in general and Air Force in particular, the majority of the opposition parties chose to question the air strike and its outcome. They thus created a lot of melee and bangarang, and thereby embarrassing the government and Air Force nationally and globally.
As the level of political discourse and choice of words used by many party leaders are utterly fallacious and shameful, the author would avoid quoting them verbatim here but let's briefly see what the Air Force and government really said and how opposition responded following Pulwama and Balakot events. The official version said that based on credible intelligence about the fidayeen jihadis being trained for more terrorist attacks in various parts of the country, the Air Force took a non-military pre-emptive strike on the JeM's biggest training camp in Balakot, Pakistan eliminating a large number of JeM terrorists, trainers and senior commanders. The initial agenda was set by the chief minister of Bengal who questioned how the authorities had so quickly concluded that Pakistan was responsible for the killings. She demanded that the details of India's air strike on JeM facility at Balakot be made public and there should not be war between the two countries because of political compulsions - an obvious corollary to the ensuing Parliamentary elections. Then it would be uncivil to quote the preposterous and libellous remarks of the Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal on Balakot strike when he accused Mr Modi of playing politics with dead bodies of Indian soldiers to win 300 seats in the ensuing Parliamentary election. Kejriwal has already become a celebrity and darling of the political brass and media in Pakistan for his delirium on the subject.
As such the legendary Congress on their part had been relentlessly mocking Prime Minister Modi since Pulwama attack on 14 February with familiar allegation of intelligence failure and government's inaction to safeguard people. Now many Congress leaders started raising doubts over the casualties and infrastructure damages consequent to Indian Air Force's strikes across the LOC demanding the government to produce proof and one minister from the Punjab government, well known for his babbler antics, even questioned the objective of strike - "Were you uprooting terrorists or trees?" Incidentally, this cacophony perfectly concords with the narrative of Pakistan and their allegation of eco-terrorism against India post-Balakot strike. In fact, another senior Congress leader went to the extent of making allegations that the Pulwama-Balakot events were a fixed match between India and Pakistan (calling two prime ministers by name) due to Parliamentary elections. The Congress President, known for his perennial vicious attacks on incumbent prime minister in one or the other context, even escalated the political discourse beyond the current crisis blaming the earlier BJP Prime Minister Atal Bihari Bajpai for the lack of vision and resolve in dealing with the Kashmir issue and Azhar Masood.
Gandhi scion created flutter while unconsciously or deliberately referring to the dreaded terrorist as "Azhar Masood Ji" while pulling the Bajpai government in handling Indian Airlines aircraft hijack crisis in 1999. Though the party indeed tried damage control by saying that he did it with 'sarcasm' but in reality there was no perceptible hint of such sarcasm discernable in the Congress President's remarks. This is not for the first time that the Congress leaders have inappropriately addressed or glorified terrorists and anti-national elements. In the past, some other Congress leaders too have addressed the dreaded global terrorist, Hafiz Saeed, with respectable addresses like "Ji" and "Sahib". Azhar Masood is responsible for numerous terror attacks in Kashmir and other parts of India causing hundreds of deaths of innocent people yet many Indians prefer to address him as "Maulana" which implies a scholarly person. For sure any hardcore terrorist would not deserve a respectable address or the title of a scholar. Stretching the political discourse to the past regime of Prime Minster Bajpai only suggests the political immaturity, lack of the historical knowledge and long term vision. It is now widely believed and accepted by most knowledgeable and rational people that the Kashmir problem is a nemesis of faulty policy and fatal mistakes of India's first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru after independence.
The ideology and loyalty of two prominent regional parties of Jammu & Kashmir, the National Conference headed by Farukh Abdullah and People's Democratic Party of Mahbooba Mufti have always been oscillating between India and Pakistan depending upon whether they are in government or in opposition. Both the parties are out of power now and their response was on predictable lines. Farukh Abdullah made allegation against Modi government that the surgical strikes were done due to approaching elections and they (Abdullah Inc) always knew there would be a fight or skirmish with Pakistan. Mahbooba Mufti held that the demand for evidence of the recent air strike was everyone's right as the government was ambiguous about the details.
As Pakistan is not likely to abandon its current policy of nurturing, protecting and sponsoring terrorism from its soil against India, its eagerness to maintain that the Balakot strike was more of hype than substance is understandable. Moreover, its admission of such a strike is bound to raise more questions on Pakistan's role in sponsoring terrorism; hence it is almost certain that it will continue to remain in denial mode. Ironically, in such eventuality irresponsible statements of Indian politicians and other opinion-makers questioning the very objective of the strike or doubting the Air Force version of targeting the terrorist camp would only provide strength and ammunition to Pakistan's propaganda and position. As such the thinking and opinion of heterogeneous opposition on the counter-terrorism is quite confused and divided, and appears to be based on the premise that anything done by the government led by Mr Modi would necessarily be delinquent and patently wrong.
Post-Pulwama developments suggest that the majority of Indians appreciated the Balakot strike but there is a fairly good number of people too who did not like it. Incidentally, the latter category is mostly comprised of people who do not like Prime Minister Modi and some even detest him. Naturally, their opinions and reactions have reached a level where anti-Modi chants sounds like the voices of the Pakistani government and army. Synchrony of their doubts and question has a remarkable resemblance: Did the strike really occur at the proclaimed site? Was there really been any casualty? Why is India so war-crazy during the election time? Is it not true that Pakistan Premier Imran Khan is more good intentioned than the Indian counterpart, and an apostle of peace? In the present technological age, the countries simultaneously fight psychological warfare too off the battle-ground and the morale of the armed forces would certainly be down if their efforts are publicly questioned or criticized. Should people hound the government in crisis hours for multi-megapixel images of the dead or damaged buildings or accept that their Air Force indeed did a fine job? In my opinion, the very fact that India has shown grit and resolve to cross the line striking terrorists in Pakistan's backyard is suffice and a far bigger achievement than worrying about the number of dead or building damaged.
The opposition parties need to realize that the military operational detail such as how many terrorists were actually killed or buildings destroyed at Balakot in bombing is something that no government would be willing to divulge with and more so when it is in a foreign territory. It is not appropriate for a long term perspective, even if precise information is available. Such details and information is usually kept secret by governments because, apart from the sensitivity of future relations between countries and governments, this information might also compromise and risk future intelligence gathering and human assets deployed on the ground. One can understand the fear and compulsions of opposition going to electorate with some disadvantage in the election season but compromising national security for the fear of electoral loss is neither wise nor a guarantee for winning an election. For a true nationalist or patriot, the country should always come first and the politics only next in priority; the nation has already exhibited this spirit of the opposition during 1971 India-Pakistan War.
The opposition parties must appreciate that the Pulwama attack was not a creation of the Indian government. When the entire nation is anguished and agitated, and tempers for revenge are running high, onus falls on the government for the commensurate action to fulfill demand and assuage feelings of the masses. While doubting and questioning here, the opposition wants to give credit only to the three Defence Services in general and/or Air Force in particular for Balakot strike. I would like to pose a simple question to the grand old party of this country; after all they have ruled the country for over five decades since independence. Can the Air Force Chief on his own order an air strike deep into the enemy territory? Unlike Pakistan military, the Indian armed forces have traditionally been apolitical restricting self to their specialized domain. While they exercise complete liberty in operational matters, the decision for their deployment and action within country under certain contingencies and outside against external forces is always that of the civilian government, and prime minister in this case. It needs iron will and firm resolve of a determined civilian government of which prime minister is the chief functional executive. Those who do not realize this have deliberately chosen to live in a fool's paradise.
The majority of politicians in this country look at the politics as an opportunity. Many of them regularly indulge in nepotism (without any shame attached), clandestinely engage in money laundering (mostly by proxy) and amass disproportionate wealth in a short time. Despite almost fifteen years as Chief Minister of Gujarat and five years in Delhi as Prime Minister of India, Mr Narendra Modi has been free from any aforesaid maladies and allegations. In my active years of personal and professional span of over three decades, I have not seen any head of the Indian government so committed, decisive and hardworking. So clearly he is a bird of different feathers that many of the political class neither appreciate nor ever try to emulate. More worrisome is the fact that currently many opposition leaders in their zeal to discredit and dislodge Mr Modi have resorted to doing things that clearly jeopardize the security and interests of the nation. It is not surprising that the same people also criticize genuine nationalism as "hyper-nationalism" and patriotism as "jingoism" in the country.
While sane and rational people do not doubt patriotism of such people or willfully brand them anti-national but it is also for them to accept that they are not totally blinded by their personal dislike or hatred for Mr Modi. Remarkably, many of these politicians in different parties have serious personal and ideological differences and cannot see eye-to-eye yet they are pretending solidarity and fellowship on public forums just to dislodge their common adversary (enemy for some) by any means. But the current crisis is not a unique or standalone event, I recall even during the Kargil Conflict the opposition did not unanimously support the then Bajpai Government and the Congress leaders were particularly whining hoarse over the alleged intelligence failure, military unpreparedness, and so on. In fact, the then Congress President had gone to the extent of calling Prime Minister Bajpai a "liar", the same jargon her son and incumbent Congress President is freely and merrily using against Mr Modi every now and then. One only hopes that the such politicians would learn to make distinction between the national interests and political opportunism; if not, the Indian masses would for sure teach them a lesson.