Volume 23 Issue 3, March 2019


By Vice Admiral (R) Taj M Khattak

The ‘Two Days Air War’, as it were, ended abruptly after the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) responded decisively to the Indian Air Force’s (IAF) rash foray into Pakistan’s air space, which had never happened since the 1971 Indo-Pak war. In the ‘strike’ on six targets in Indian Occupied Kashmir and the air engagement which ensued, the IAF lost two aircraft, with one pilot captured and another dead when his aircraft caught fire and fell on the other side of the border. After the first day’s attack, Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj declared that India didn’t want any further escalation in tensions with Pakistan. So what does one make of Indian actions of not agreeing to any joint investigations or talks in the wake of the Pulwama incident and nearly starting a war by violating Pakistan’s airspace in such a reckless manner?

Of late, a new and discernable pattern has begun to emerge in India’s action against Pakistan, which has been termed as a ‘non-military’ military strategy’. It is being defined by India as actions based on assessment of an imminent threat, ensuring that Pakistan’s military personnel and infrastructure are not targeted and civilian casualties avoided. In effect, New Delhi’s line after the IAF’s intrusion, has been that the operation was an intelligence-driven counter-terror strike rather than an escalatory military aggression.

Shorn of semantics, what it apparently means is to adopt a ‘safe’ course of action, with nil or minimum risk of losing either one’s own men and material or of the adversary, Pakistan. There is obvious logic in this because any bungled-up operation resulting in loss of human lives will be a huge embarrassment and a deficit in the Indian military’s register. On the other hand, any significant hurt to Pakistan will leave no room for the government in Islamabad but to respond and thus escalate tensions. No one will be able to predict its eventual trajectory with any degree of accuracy and India wants to avoid this.
There is some evidence to support this argument, since in the post-Uri so-called ‘surgical strike’, the Indian army’s Director General Military Operations (DGMO) was visibly anxious and went to some lengths in assuring his Pakistani counterpart that the strike was the end of the matter and no further action was planned. Similarly, after the Balakot intrusion, India’s Defence Secretary Vijay Gokhale said that Pulwama had been avenged and there was nothing more to it.

After the Uri incident in 2016, India claimed to have carried out a surgical strike on the Line of Control (LoC). To date, no one seems to know exactly where it happened. The Indian army did release an odd photograph or two of its Special Forces resting on some hillside but nothing more, even though there was constant clamour in the parliament for concrete evidence. There was no loss of life despite the incredibly tall claims. Again in the Balakot incident, India did not produce a shred of evidence. A film from Bollywood after every such incident is now a given staple for the Indian public for furthering hatred against Pakistan – an unmistakable agenda of the BJP, whether in or out of power.

For India, the upshot of this strategy is that it immediately puts Pakistan on the defensive, which then goes into an extensive exercise like inviting international media and briefings to discredit Indian claims. After the reported surgical strike on the Line of Control, Pakistan’s Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR) took a large group of media persons to the LoC who reported no signs of any surgical strike. The United Nations Military Observers Group in Pakistan (UNMOGIP) also reached a similar conclusion but that didn’t shame India. In spite of all this effort, there was yet a nagging doubt, that maybe, just maybe, Pakistan wasn’t revealing the whole story. Through these tactics, India aims at creating doubts in the minds of Pakistani people against its own government and organizations, which serves its purpose well.

As witnessed repeatedly, India goes into an over-drive and indulges in a vicious, consistent and frenzied media circus to launch propaganda against Pakistan. Indian TV anchors are in a class of their own when it comes to stupidity, aggression and irrationality. Anyone on the Indian soil, who dares express a view different from the official narrative, is instantly branded as being unpatriotic and is advised to leave the country. This kind of intolerant behaviour wasn’t heard of even in Hitler’s Nazi Germany or Mussolini’s Fascist Italy during WWII, let alone in a democracy which India claims to be and where freedom of expression is fundamental to governance.

As per media reports, for the attack on Balakot, the IAF strike package comprised 12 Mirage 2000 aircraft which took off from Gwalior and flew over Himachal Pradesh and Indian Occupied Kashmir, before crossing over into Azad Kashmir, nearly 25 kilometers north of Muzaffarabad. This would give them over ten minutes warning for any PAF aircraft from the nearest base for interception, which is enough to drop their load and get away, if challenged. The aircraft were reportedly armed with SPICE 2000 (Smart, Precise Impact and Cost-Effective) and Crystal Maze Mk2, also called AGM 142 Popeye PGMs. The SPICE is a kit which converts a conventional bomb into smart munition and is manufactured by Rafael of Israel and can be released onto its target from as far away as 100 kilometers.

The IAF also deployed the Israeli Phalcon and indigenous Netra early warning aircraft to monitor the mission — to direct the aircraft as well as to keep an eye for Pakistani F-16s that might be deployed to counter them — and a Heron long range UAV that was used for monitoring and assessment. Sukhoi Su-30MKIs fighter jets were also airborne and standing by, as a precautionary move. The aircraft numbers and weapons load would appear more suitable against a nuclear facility and look disproportionate for a few hutments as target. So what is India up to?

India’s Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale had called the air intrusion an absolutely necessary ‘pre-emptive strike’ as India had received what it considered credible intelligence, indicating more terror attacks in Indian Occupied Kashmir. Balakot is not in Azad Kashmir but in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and is about 60 kilometers from the LoC.

This new Indian strategy is as much out of depth as the earlier ones like ‘Cold Start’ and dangerous for peace in the region. For far too long, India has used terrorism as an excuse to oppress Kashmiri Muslims and deny them their due rights to determine their own future as accepted by the UN and enshrined in its charter. It is not known what lessons India has drawn from the recent escalation of tensions with Pakistan but whatever they are, it will be in its own interest to acknowledge that eighteen years after 9/11 and the US defeat in Afghanistan, the shine has come off from the bogie of terrorism and the world has moved on. Instead of coining meaningless and fancy phrases every now and then, it would be advisable for India that in the region’s interest, it works towards solving all outstanding issues through negotiations in a peaceful environment.

The writer is a retired Vice Admiral. He can be reached at tajkhattak@ymail.com

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