There is a popular story on self-reliance taught to school students in India. In essence, it elaborates on how as the first reaction, a person in need always looks towards his/her friends and near and dear ones for help. However, in the end, one has to do his/ her work himself/ herself as only the aggrieved person knows exactly what is to be done to derive the utmost satisfaction and more importantly, the desired results. The moral of the story was – “Finally, you have to do your work yourself”. And that’s what India finally did when the Balakot surgical strike was carried from the third dimension on 26 Feb 2019 – an action that should have been done long before.
The Surgical Strike of September 2016 had given a glimpse of the beginning of the change of India’s anti-terror strategy, seething anger of the Indian populace and more importantly, the new-found resolve of the political leadership; and now, Balakot surgical strike of February 2019 (in official terms – ‘Non Military Pre-emptive air strike’) has exhibited the arrival of India’s new anti-terror policy which has unmistakably shaken Pakistan and has put all her calculations about Indian response, upside-down. Balakot was home to the biggest terrorist training camp of Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM), located in Khyber- Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province of Pak approximately 190 km from Islamabad.1 It was reported that airstrikes were also carried out against terrorist camps at Chakothi, located four kilometres from the LoC in the Uri sector and at Muzaffarabad, 50 kilometres deep across the LoC (However this requires further verification).2 Pak-abetted terrorism has bled India for the last four decades and the Balakot surgical strike is a welcome and long-awaited departure from the age-old and rudderless policy of ‘strategic restraint’ towards terrorism & Pak, and moving towards a well deliberated strategy of calibrated ‘assured retaliation’.
The nature of aggression shown by India and Pakistan during the Balakot surgical strike is too stark a contrast to be ignored by any nation. On one hand, India has displayed remarkable sense of responsibility and resolute political & military leadership to take the fight against terrorism to its roots. On the other hand, Pakistan displayed why it is called a failing state with no sign of return to stability. The statement of Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) official on the eve of the surgical strike plainly amplifies the maturity and national tenacity, of which everyone has taken a note of – “The Government of India is firmly and resolutely committed to taking all necessary measures to fight the menace of terrorism. Hence this non-military preemptive action was specifically targeted at the JeM camp. The selection of the target was also conditioned by our desire to avoid civilian casualties”.3
The military victory was supplemented with a diplomatic victory as the Indian response found a resounding support not only from the Western world and terror-affected countries, but also from almost all Muslim nations of the world, underlining the strength of a resurgent India.
There is no doubt that India has dealt a heavy blow not only to JeM, a Pak home-grown terror outfit responsible for the infamous and dastardly Pulwama suicide attack on unarmed CRPF personnel, but also to the hollow pride of Pak Army. This definitely has a high risk of retaliation and escalation which PAF tried to demonstrate in a failed air raid the next day. Pakistan now fully understands the dire consequences of brinkmanship and overplaying the terror game in an attempt of face saving.
In larger perspective, the Balakot surgical strike has not only conveyed a strong message to Pakistan but more importantly, it has enabled India to unshackle itself from self-imposed superficial beliefs and false facade. A nation’s security strategy and core values of the society do not change overnight. In fact, sometimes it may take decades or even centuries to break the status quo, in order to carve out a new and assertive national identity. It is a phenomenal transition India and its proud citizens are witnessing today. The Balakot surgical strike is an action which has all the possible ingredients which can put India on a different trajectory which it always desired to pursue but could never, at least in the last few centuries i.e. to hit the aggressor in his home.
This surgical strike has been in other terms, a self recognition event for the nation as it has clearly given us some important take-aways to cherish and consolidate upon.
- Resolute Leadership. A nation is as strong as its leader. A firm and bold action always comes with a cost but a true leadership lies in taking a step towards nation’s interest. Finally, India has decided not to fall prey to Pakistan’s unabashed terror attacks in J&K and put up a strong resolve to take it to the next level which Pakistan is incapable to match.
- Politico-Military Synergy. When political and military hierarchies display mutual faith & synergy and armed forces are given the freedom to execute, the results are always positive. The decision to go much beyond PoJK (Pakistan Occupied Jammu & Kashmir) and hit the targets in KP exemplifies this synergy and the Balakot surgical strike is a splendid example of the politico-military strength of our nation. The Indian government in conjunction with the armed forces war-gamed the various options, carried out a deep risk appreciation and chose air strike by a Mirage aircraft package, armed suitably with 1000 & 500 pound bombs would meet the needs of retribution being sought for the Pulwama attack.4
- Breaking from the Past. India has never been seen as an aggressor or a nation that uses military might to preserve its national interests by the world. The stress on diplomatic endeavors and economic development perhaps made military security take a lower pedestal for too long. In the last four decades, we have paid a heavy price in terms of human lives lost to terrorism and to everyone’s dismay, Pak-sponsored terror was being taken as a fait accompli by most in the power-centres and policy-making. The Balakot surgical strike has in no uncertain terms proved to us that lasting peace cannot be achieved by meekly accepting the wrongs.
- Superlative Prowess of Indian Armed Forces. Two surgical strikes across the LoC – one by land forces and another by air, both yielding 100% results and without a single causality are testimony to our military prowess. This is the real display of sheer professionalism of the Indian Armed Forces. It again highlights the 24×7 preparedness, high morale, battle hardened men and inspiring leadership of our forces which has delivered time and again, living up to the aspirations of billion of Indians.
- Selection of Target. Balakot terror camp was the main training camp facility of JeM. Striking a target further deep inside Pak, further away from PoJK, is a stern signal to Pak that now on there will be no holds barred from the Indian side to act against the perpetrators of terrorism in India, operating from Pak soil. Pak is now compelled to weigh its options as it always had been under-estimating the Indian response.
- Unmasking Pak Bogey. Pak has been throwing the bogey of nuclear option as and when it felt the heat from India. It had been a restraining factor for India till date, and many in India echoed the same concerns submitting to Pak nuclear rhetoric. However, the Balakot surgical strike has checkmated Pak in its own game and brought down the veil from nuclear bogey. A nation with deteriorating economy, notoriously acquired infamy of terror-sponsor state and a propagandist army has no steam left to take on the mighty neighbour. Finally, Pak’s ‘Thousand Cut’ strategy has now an Indian counter – ‘Any time Any where’.
- Overwhelming International Support. It has taken India hard work of years to develop and strengthen a unique bond of friendship with nations across the world, which was on display in the aftermath of Balakot strike. The US, France, Russia, Germany, UK, Israel, Australia and all African and Asian nations have stood with India after the Pulwama attack and fully endorsed Balakot strike. The enormous pressure which has been created by all the stake-holders has even forced China, the all-weather friend of Pak, to maintain a deafening silence with low-pitched diplomatic statements in between. This indeed shows the stature and place India commands at the world stage. The release of Wg Cdr Abhinandan- captured IAF Pilot- within 60 hours of being taken into Pak custody is a perfect example of a huge diplomatic victory, demonstrating the enormous pressure exerted by all nations on Pak to toe the Indian line. Otherwise, knowing Pak’s despicable credentials of the past pertaining to the treatment meted out to Indian defence personnel who were captured during the past wars, this was nothing less than a diplomatic coup.
- National Will. It is indeed heartening to see Indians from all strata of society – different religions, gender and regions standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the government and the Armed Forces in this hour of need. India has always been subjected to the stigma of not having a ‘strategic culture’ in the country, but one can now feel the winds blowing in the right direction and people of the country have started to participate and contribute in the national security discourse. It’s time for India to harness the potential it holds and makes it count at the international forums.
The most important step towards self-belief, self-respect and self-actualisation as a nation, has been taken and we hope that the resolve the nation has demonstrated will be the beginning for the new India – a nation with commitment and self-pride. India now needs a comprehensive, extensively war-gamed and long-term policy against Pak-sponsored terror to construct and consolidate what it has initiated. China, for the fourth time, has blocked an initiative, backed by an unprecedented number of countries, to tag JeM chief Masood Azhar as a “global terrorist” by the UNSC on 13 Mar 2019. Yet India must stay undeterred in its fight against terrorism and should continue to maintain political, diplomatic, economic and psychological pressure on Pakistan till it achieves the desired results. Balakot surgical strike has laid the foundation of the road to end the decades’ long unrest in the valley and it must be pursued with unflinching resolve.
1 India destroys JeM terror camps: Where exactly is Balakot?, bussinesstoday.in, 26 Feb 19 2 India Today. (2019). Mirage jets destroy Pakistan terror camp with 1,000 kg bombs in pre-dawn strike: Sources. [online] Available at: https://www.indiatoday.in/india/story/indian-mirage-fighters-loc-terror-camp-destroyed-pok-1465068-2019-02-26 [Accessed 14 Mar. 2019]. 3 Press Brief, MEA, https://mea.gov.in/press-release.htm, 26 Feb19. 4 Lt Gen Ata Hasnain, Air strike to avenge Pulwama is appropriate, but do not rule out escalation, Economic Times,//economictimes.indiatimes.com/articleshow/, 27 Feb 1