The country has undergone massive changes in recent times, especially on the front of terrorism and national security. While the country saw an unprecedented terror attack in Pulwama recently, the subsequent response of the government has been equally strong. The Pulwama terror attack in Kashmir has been one of the worst attacks on security forces in the post-1990 history of Kashmir. Launched on a CRPF convoy using a high weight and intensity IED device and in the form of a suicide attack, it instantly killed the 40 CRPF personnel travelling in the bus.
The attack was claimed by none other than the Islamic terrorist outfit Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM), whose leader Masood Azhar has made it his life’s mission to wreak destruction on India. The JeM traces its roots to the Afghan Taliban, since Azhar fought with the Afghan mujahideen against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan during 1979-89. Azhar was arrested in Kashmir in 1994 for terrorist activities and was released when the Indian government negotiated to secure the release of the hijacked IC-814 Air India aircraft in 1999.
It was after being released from India that Azhar founded the JeM and became one of India’s sworn enemies. The JeM has been, in the past, responsible for some of the worst terror attacks in India’s history. It was responsible for the 2001 attack on the J&K assembly and later the 2001 attack on the Indian Parliament. It was also responsible for other major attacks such as the post-2014 attacks, including in Pathankot and Uri military bases. The Indian government has shared proof that the outfit is funded by Pakistan’s ISI, even though it attempted to assassinate Pakistani President, Pervez Musharraf, in 2003 and has been banned in Pakistan. The JeM’s banning is a toothless paper tiger at best. For, Azhar continues to roam free and hold rallies and lectures in Pakistan without being listed as a terrorist by the UN 1267 Sanctions Committee on global terrorists.
When Pakistan decides to ‘ban’ terrorists, one should always know that it is mostly a hoax. The recent decision – after the Balakot strikes – of the Pakistani government to ‘arrest’ 44 terrorists, including Azhar’s brother and son, has been rejected by India, since this was not arrest under the country’s anti-terrorism laws, but simply ‘preventive detention’ which would soon enable them to roam free, much like Saeed has been allowed to in spite of 26/11.
One should also not be under the delusion that this was done to pacify India, solely. Besides dissuading India from taking military action, it was also done because of immense international pressure and scrutiny of Pakistan for harbouring terrorists and so that its name could be removed from the ‘grey list’ of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), which could undermine its already poor economy’s chances of further getting any investments.
None of these self-serving actions should satisfy India, since they mean nothing. India’s quest for actually listing Azhar as an international terrorist in the UNSC 1267 Sanctions Committee remains unfulfilled. Such a sanctioning would be necessary to effectively clip Azhar’s wings and freedom of movement. Hafiz Saeed’s effectivity has been blunted, to some extent, after being listed as a terrorist. It is not, therefore, enough to globally ban terror outfits, since the individual terrorists can always start new outfits to escape any sanctions, much like Saeed started JuD and FIF, even though he himself needs to be in hiding. However, due to the opposition by China in the UNSC, the listing of Azhar remains problematic.
The politics over sanctioning Azhar has also made India realize the futility of diplomatic measures alone. After the Pulwama attack and India’s air strikes in Balakot, it is being brought home to the people of this country that diplomacy is, perhaps, the one of the worst and weakest methods to deal with terrorism. It is a good means to develop relations with other countries in the time of need, but terrorists can only be dealt with by directly eliminating them. India has been one of the slowest to realize this, and previous Indian governments have not only relied on international pressures and diplomacy after every terror attack, but have also known to commit the folly of negotiating with the terrorists themselves.
The Surgical Strike of 2016 marked a break from this trend, but the Pulwama terror attack in Kashmir has brought things to a head for India. Not only did the JeM openly claim responsibility for it, but also declared that they would stage more such attacks in the near future. The fact that several Kashmiri civilians are really Over Ground Workers (OGW) for terrorists and obstruct the work of the Indian military, does not help either.
With India being in such a situation, the use of force is an option that should have been exercised long ago, in the interest, not only of national security, but also national honour. This is finally dawning on the government, with a beginning having been made with the Balakot strikes by the Indian Air Force (IAF) – a significant progress over the Surgical Strike of 2016 also. The strikes in Balakot, deep inside Pakistan’s undisputed territory, marks a watershed moment in the country’s history of dealing with terrorism emanating from Pakistan.
The operation has been officially described by India as ‘pre-emptive non-military’ strike, underscoring that it was conducted on the basis of intelligence reports that indicated that JeM was planning more suicide attacks in India, rather than in retaliation to Pulwama.
Therefore, India had carefully calibrated everything – including the strategy to use a certain type of Israeli munition which pin-pointedly targets the main centres and leaves the buildings intact – to ensure that such a message goes out that would leave very little legitimate space for Pakistan to retaliate.
The air strikes in Balakot are important for several reasons, but the most important one is that it has firmly, for the first time, put India on an active path to end all compromises with terrorism and markedly raised India’s standing among the comity of nations, to the point that, besides others, even China refused to support Pakistan in any military quest against India and made it clear that it was in Pakistan for economic development projects only.
Combined with the Surgical Strike of 2016 in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (PoK), the Balakot air strikes have radically shifted India’s policy towards terrorism and towards Pakistan. It has also changed the national psyche, ensuring that there will be heightened public pressure to give a strong military response after every terrorist incident on Indian soil.
A History of Weakness
The Balakot air strikes mark a watershed in India’s history of engagement with Pakistan-sponsored terrorism. Prior to Balakot, official India-Pakistan hostilities had not gone beyond the Line of Control (LoC) and Indian attacks – such as the Surgical Strikes of 2016 – have not gone beyond India striking the PoK. Previous attempts to give a strong response to Pakistan’s harbouring of terrorists who attack India has been extremely limited, as seen during the Kargil war, the 2001 border crisis and 26/11 attacks. In all of these much more severe previous national crises, despite bearing the brunt of terror in its very heartland, India inexplicably continued to treat the LoC as a ‘sacred’ line that Indian forces must never cross – their maximum and rarest reach being till the Pok at best.
It defied all logic about why India would want to look at its own heartland through the lens of Kashmir – the Indian policy has, in the past, treated the terror attacks on the Indian soil as a part of the “Kashmir problem”, not realizing that radical Islamic terrorists have, in words and action, made it a mission to wage jihad against India and that the illusion of political freedom for Kashmir is just a stooge. When terrorists are attacking India in Parliament and in Mumbai, it made little sense to continue to respect the ‘sanctity’ of the LoC. Yet, Indian policy has always done that in the past. It has bought into the whitewashing propaganda of Pakistan and the terrorists.
The so-called ‘nuclear balance’ that has prevailed in the region has prevented India from engaging in anything that might lead to the escalation of hostilities between the nuclear-armed states. But Pakistan has had no such boundaries or ‘nuclear balance’. It has liberally used terror proxies in not just Kashmir, but all over India, to further its policy of ‘bleeding India by a thousand cuts’. India’s misplaced sense of moral responsibility towards Pakistani aggression, in the name of maintaining the nuclear balance, has been one of its worst and a self-defeating policies.
Thus, in the quest to unilaterally respect the nuclear balance, after 1971, the use of air power has been severely restricted. On the other hand, after being stung by India during the 1971 war, Pakistan accelerated its nuclear programme. Once both India and Pakistan conducted nuclear tests in 1998, India adopted a ‘no first use’ policy, according to which India, in the event of a war, will not be the first one to use its nuclear weapons for offensive attacks. Pakistan has not been bound by any such policy or morality.
The current Balakot strikes have brought home by their effectiveness and results – Pakistani capitulation and fear and international support and respect – that the doctrine of a nuclear balance has been a sham of sorts. It had instilled a false and misplaced sense of responsibility and hesitation in India, even as Pakistan accelerated the use of terrorists to attack India relentlessly. Apparently, therefore, India imposed a self-defeating policy on itself, in trying to appear moral and responsible in front of the world, while the entire international community, from US to Europe to Russia, turned a blind eye to – and even indulged – Pakistan’s use of state-sponsored terrorism.
While the restrictions imposed by the nuclear balance have hobbled India, Pakistan has, consistently, since 1987, accelerated its venomous policy of gradually ‘bleeding India by a thousand cuts’ in which it has deployed the use of state-sponsored terrorists to attack the country. Terror outfits like LeT and JeM have operated in Kashmir with impunity and have, during the decade of 2000s, struck elsewhere in the country, the most notable being the 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks in 2008. Despite this impunity and the clear evidence in all cases linking this terrorism to Pakistan, India has not responded with anything other than diplomatic pressure.
Worse still, India has, historically, stuck to the bogus narrative parroted by the Pakistani government and the Kashmiri terrorists’ viz. the conflict in Kashmir has been a political issue, a struggle for self-determination by the self-designated separatists in the Valley. As a result, terrorists and their local supporters have been given legitimacy by none other than the Indian state, by using terms such as ‘militants’ and ‘separatists’ for them. Even though their affiliation to Pakistan was clear and there was evidence of many of these so-called separatists going to Pakistan – including the valorized separatists such as JKLF’s Maqbool Bhat and others – to get training from Pakistan’s ISI, yet, they were not only accorded security cover, but even entered into negotiations with by previous governments, be it the UPA or the Vajpayee-led NDA.
The result has been that, due to the failure of the Indian narrative and strong position, the rest of the world has started viewing them as ‘freedom fighters.’ In the same way, the problem with Pakistani aggressions has been treated softly by the Indian state, with kid gloves. There is no such thing as ‘cross border terrorism’ existing in a vacuum within the LoC zone. What the Indian establishment has, historically, termed as ‘cross border terrorism’ has been nothing short of ‘acts of war’ perpetrated by the Pakistani government using its terror proxies. These terrorists were trained in Pakistan and received arms and support from them, often, as is common knowledge, infiltrating into India during winters under the cover of shelling by the Pakistani army.
Yet, the term ‘cross border terrorism’ by the Indian establishment has somehow unjustly ended up whitewashing the Pakistani hand. And never has India, till recently, given any strong response to these acts of war by Pakistan, except, maybe, a diplomatic rebuke or two. Worse still, India has often termed these clearly state-sponsored Pakistani terrorists as ‘non-state actors’ – a fashionable iconography in International Relations, but applicable only to NGOs, not terror groups. This has always meant handing Pakistan an opportunity on a silver platter to absolve itself of its connection to terrorism.
Even when things came to a head during the 1999 Kargil war, Prime Minister Vajpayee refused to allow the air force to cross the ‘sacred’ LoC, to deal with Pakistani army’s brazen attempt to control vital positions on the Indian soil. In 1998, by releasing Masood Azhar during the IC-814 hijacking, the government provided unwarranted legitimacy to terrorist groups by initiating negotiations with them in the first place.
Yet again, after the Parliament attack of 2001, carried out by JeM, while armed forces from across the country were mobilized at the LoC, in the words of former Indian Navy Chief, Prime Minister Vajpayee refused to give a green signal to attack Pakistan, saying ‘Baad mein Batayenge’ (We will tell you later), thereby keeping the costly border status quo for over 10 months to no avail and then withdrawing after that.
After the 26/11 attacks, it was even worse. While the Manmohan Singh government had almost given a green signal to conduct air strikes in the LeT hub at Muridke in Pakistan, it withdrew subsequently due to political pressures. Like the governments before it, it confined itself to dealing with Pakistani proxy terrorism only through diplomatic and political means.
It was only with the surgical strikes of 2016 that a threshold of crossing the LoC was achieved, but even these were ground-based strikes and conducted across the PoK – a disputed territory. The Balakot strikes were a complete game changer. They signal the use of air power by a nuclear armed state and have, moreover, occurred in what is an undisputed territory of Pakistan, much beyond the LoC and right in the region of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa – and that too, without the IAF Mirage-2000 fighter aircraft crossing into Pakistani airspace, since the munition used, SPICE-2000 and AGM Popeye, have a range of 60-100 km and 90 km respectively.
They also set a new bar in sub-conventional warfare between India and Pakistan and a ‘new normal’ viz. the use of air strikes to continue destroying anti-India terror camps anywhere in the territory of Pakistan in the future as well.
The strikes mirror an effective policy that countries like US and Israel have been following for, at least the past decade and a half, in targeting and destroying terrorist camps in countries like Pakistan, Afghanistan, Palestine and Syria, the West-backed Saudi and Emirati alliance have also extensively used this in the ongoing Yemen war. The extensive use of pin-point airstrikes at terrorists – even by nuclear armed states – have made them a normal part of sub-conventional warfare. It is something which Indian governments had contemplated before but have never been able to execute, due to self-imposed weaknesses. Apparently, for political and illusory moral compulsions known best to past governments, India alone has been one of the last countries to catch up on this front.
The Heralding of a New Chapter
Now that the Indian government has caught up and seems to have shed its past weaknesses, the initial results have been all the more effective. The Pakistanis’ flustered response to the Balakot strikes shows this. In a compulsive and face-saving retaliatory move, after doing its half-baked customary bit to enter the Indian airspace and target India’s military installations near the LoC, it has been trying its level best to press for de-escalation of tensions. It even went to the point of releasing the captured Indian Air Force (IAF) pilot, Abhinandan Varthaman, as a ‘gesture of peace’, to morally pressurize India to not strike back in a military response. (The dogfight between Varthaman’s Soviet era MiG-21 Bison and Pakistan’s US manufactured advanced F-16 is another story that has become the stuff of air power legends, since a Soviet era aircraft felled a four times advanced US aircraft. The fight lasted 90 seconds and Varthaman’s aircraft went down only after it felled the F-16.) Earlier, it had attempted to blackmail India over the pilot issue, which clearly did not work.
India has, till date, maintained that it will not engage in any ‘peace talks’ with Pakistan unless it takes action against terror outfits like JeM, based in Pakistan. Further movements have been visible, as in the preceding days, Pakistan has not just admitted that Massod Azhar is, indeed, in Pakistan and is terminally ill, but has also signaled that it might allow Azhar to be finally put on the United Nations Security Council 1267 committee sanctions list – a long standing demand of India. Likewise, in the past few days, China has been not only willing to discuss the issue beyond its fixed mechanical statement on the listing of Azhar, indicating that it might abstain during the UNSC vote to allow India’s resolution to list Azhar to be passed, (There have been media reports claiming that China might be willing to accede to India’s demand to list Azhar, if in exchange, India supports China’s bid for Vice Presidency at the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), since whoever is the Vice President automatically becomes the President. This is just being seen as a possibility.) but has also refused to support Pakistan.
For the first time, all countries – US, France, Germany, Australia, China, Russia and Japan – have supported India strongly and unequivocally. Contrast this with the response after other major terror attacks in India – the 2001 attacks after which George Bush prevailed on PM Vajpayee to not take action against Pakistan, and, the 2008 attacks after which internal political pressures of a “secular” coalition run by the party and pressure by Barack Obama convinced Manmohan Singh not to take any action against Pakistan, not even the customary trade actions such as revoking of the Most Favoured Nation (MFN) status.
Neighbours like Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Iran – who also have borne the brunt of Pak-sponsored terrorism – too have come out in full support. Iran has threatened to itself launch action against Pakistan’s terrorists, while Afghanistan has declared that the air strikes were long due and that India should have done it long ago. Bangladesh, till date, refuses to recognize the Pakistani envoy in Bangladesh, even as the post of Pakistani High Commissioner in Bangladesh has remained vacant since March 2018.
Last year in the meeting of Organization for Islamic Cooperation (OIC), thanks to the strengthening relationship between India and Bangladesh, the latter ensured that the OIC main statement had no reference to Kashmir – a break from the past 50 years’ tradition. This year, India, after a gap of 50 years, was a ‘guest of honour’ at OIC, despite Pakistan’s threats to boycott it and despite the Balakot airstrikes. This time again, the main statement of OIC had no reference to Kashmir, though, individual nations’ resolutions – which are non-vetoable – pressed by Pakistani envoys made sure that there was a customary mention.
These developments have been unprecedented. Not only do they put an unarguable seal on Modi government’s foreign policy, but has also shown that the world respects only a strong power. The effectiveness of a foreign policy based on efficient soft power and assertion of hard power for national honour and security has also been borne out by the fact that Pakistan’s card of playing victim and mobilizing the support of Muslim countries in the name of religion has not found any takers even among its traditional Gulf allies. The message is unequivocal – a country which treats itself as weak and bound by misplaced morals will be treated similarly by the rest of the world also. As was borne out after Balakot, even China not only respects, but even appreciates the language of power, since for them nationalism is a thing of utmost importance.
One strong action by India has made a beginning in achieving what years of fruitless diplomacy had difficulty doing. The false narratives being pedaled by the opposition ranks in India and within some sections of media, who have doubted the casualties in the strikes and have asked for more ‘evidence’ is also a whitewash, for anyone who cares to make sense of the evidence that has been available from day one itself. These misleading demands need to be addressed.
Clearing the Specifics
Not only is the quest for ‘proof’ dangerous, since it exposes India’s capabilities and secret operations in a cheap public display that might be taken advantage of by the country’s enemies, (The government officials involved have clearly stated that, “It is for the political leadership to decide if it wants to release that imagery and make public what is a ‘classified’ capability.” (Singh, 2019)) the naysayers have blinded themselves to the ample information already available about the February 26th IAF operations. By further asking for proof, Indians are essentially parroting the narrative fed by Pakistan, blinding themselves to the fact that Pakistan has sealed off the madrassa within which the strikes took place and has not allowed any international media into the place.
Pakistan has shown them the nearby forest areas where there were craters and splintered trees, to pedal the ridiculous claim that the strikes caused no damage. Pakistani officials have taken the journalists to a hilltop at Jaba, where the pin-point, precision-guided IAF strikes never took place, while they have sealed off the real site.
The recent controversial Reuters report – on 6th March 2019 – that came out purported to show satellite images that the madarssa buildings which the IAF struck were still standing, even though Pakistani government has not permitted even a single foreign or domestic journalist to go inside the building and assess the damage or see the bodies of those killed.
The buildings would obviously still be standing, since, from day one, it was never the intention to destroy the whole building, but to strike pin-point targets viz. command and control centres inside the building – the damage had to be limited and specific. Without knowing the pre-determined objectives of the operation, the foreign media is pedaling claims that do not fit in with any aspect of the operation.
It must also be noted that, at a time, when all countries, their intelligence establishments, our own forces – up to the highest levels – and our own intelligence, have validated that the purpose of the operations were on spot, foreign media – an often bought-out entity – is hardly the best source to quote, over original sources.
At the outset, let us understand the nature of the operations. The operations were pin-pointedly targeted at striking select terrorist facilities within a madrassa through explosions that can take out targets and not have any effect on the nearby, surrounding areas. Thus, the IAF had targeted 4 buildings inside the campus of Madrasa Taleem-ul-Quran. Evidence is available in the form of imagery captured from devices which were monitoring the mission live.
Reconnaissance software such as the Israeli Phalcon Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) and the Netra Airborne Early Warning and Control System Aircraft (AEW&C) aircraft, deployed to monitor the mission, showed that no aircraft was within 100 km while the operation was carried out – and proving that the Pakistan Air Force was caught napping. These reconnaissance devices have their own data.
Most importantly, the entire mission was monitored and the damage assessment data recorded by the Heron Unmanned Aerial vehicle (UAV). The government has not released the images or the ‘proof’ captured by the Heron UAV, since classified information of national security cannot be paraded for public consumption. Also, at a time when the Indian government, right after the strikes, gave Pakistan the space to de-escalate by terming the strikes as ‘non-military’, releasing the Heron UAV images would have defeated the whole strategic intention of the mission. None of this obviously means that the proof does not exist – the point is it has never been and should not be released, for the sake of national interest.
Imagery from the Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR), shows that the four buildings were hit by five S-2000 precision-guided munition (PGM) fired from IAF’s Mirage-2000 fighter jets. In addition to the S-2000 PGM, even the 90 km-range Crystal Maze Mark2 (or the AGM Popeye) missile was used for ensuring pin-point accuracy and not causing any extra damage. None of the missiles need to be vertically above the target to hit it. They have a wide range.
The S-2000 PGM is an Israeli munition that, as the term ‘precision’ in its name suggests, is not meant to destroy the whole building, but cause damage to a specific and isolated target only. The munition enters the building and explodes after a delay. It was meant to damage the command and control centers only and not even the whole of the building (Singh, 2019).
The entire operation was filtered and calibrated extremely carefully, from the beginning, and that calibration is being pedaled as a loophole to suggest that there was no damage. The target and the level of damage desired, and the munition used for that, has been achieved as set out. If the IAF had desired to cause greater damage, then they clearly would not have used the S-2000 PGM – the message to all is to look beyond the appearances.
Yet another important point is that the impact of S-2000 PGM does not leave craters on ground or splinter trees, as Pakistan has been claiming was all that was done. With the S-2000 PGM, there is no such possibility, since the munition goes inside the earth and then explodes, thereby causing a mound of earth instead (Singh, 2019). Since it is a ‘precision’ guided munition, this would happen at the site sealed off by Pakistan. One wonders what myth the neighbouring country has been propagating and some in India parroting by pointing to splintered trees and craters on the ground.
Another important point about the S-2000 PGM is that it can be fired from a range of 60-100 km. Therefore, the IAF, while striking deep inside Pakistan in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, did not cross the LoC to do so. While other IAF aircraft distracted the Pakistan Air Force (PAF), the main mission of the IAF, consisting of 12 Mirage-2000, which took off from Gwalior, had direct and clear access from the LoC to strike inside Pakistan.
But that the IAF did not need to cross the LoC to fire the S-2000 PGM sounds a death knell for yet another Pakistani myth that the IAF entered its airspace and then fled – dropping its payload in a forest – when intercepted.
Lastly, and most importantly, neither the Indian government nor the IAF claimed to have killed 300 terrorists. This was reported by the media, based on the strength of the target camps and was, therefore, a logical conclusion. According to latest information, on the night of the strikes around 80-100 terrorists were present. Importantly, some identities of the dead have also been revealed. An ISI colonel, Salim Qari, JeM trainer, Maulana Moeem, and, Pulwama suicide bomber’s handler, were among those eliminated by the strikes (Banerjee, 2019).
No aspect of the Balakot mission – even from the basics that are available in the public domain – has provided anything even remotely to support the unfounded myths being propagated. The later statement issued by Jaish – in the form of an audio clip by Azhar’s brother who ran the madrassa – directly contradicted and criticized the Imran Khan government and said that the IAF strikes had struck at the camp and would be met with retaliation.
The point is that the answers are clearly available in the technical details of the operation, and validate what the IAF chief has said all along – that the operation achieved the set purpose.
The Ejection of the Worst
However, far from presenting a united front, the country is getting divided further. The political divisions over something as important as national honour and security are spawning an atmosphere of sheer ill-will and disregard for the country. As we have seen above, India’s weak historical policy vis-à-vis Pakistan and Pakistan-spawned terrorism has been a direct result of a vitiated national character and limitations imposed by the tendency to sacrifice everything – including the nation – at the senseless altar of secularism. It is certainly true of the previous dispensations that the Muslim vote-bank in India has made them completely oblivious to the concept of Islamic terrorism.
The extent to which our political leaders have compromised with the country’s dignity to reach an understanding with terrorists and so-called separatists and even with Pakistan, has been a direct result of our culture being taken hostage by the false and destructive narrative of self-tormenting and self-doubting secularism. In our quest to appear moral and secular and democratic, our politics has reflected and spewed the worst kind of destructions. Evidently, as the increasingly venomous political reaction towards the Balakot strikes show, this is still the case. It shows that the country is set to go through a lot more hardships to purge it of the elements that have hobbled and haunted it.
The Balakot strikes have opened an important chapter in India’s national security policy, despite the internal disarray. It has raised a bar on India’s response to terrorism which would be difficult to redact by any future government. That bar needs to be raised even further till it is ingrained in India’s psyche and national character that weakness is unacceptable. Till India comes to a full realization of the Divine in the nation, our collective spiritual destiny will continue to elude us. It is clear that impediments continue to abound and more impact is needed for national awakening to become permanent and unshakeable. We have made a beginning now, as the Balakot strikes, for the first time, gave expression to the collective public will, which has otherwise been always sacrificed at the altar of petty, utilitarian interests.
Banerjee, A. (2019, March 4). The Tribune. Retrieved from
Singh, S. (2019, March 2). Indian Express. Retrieved from