Geopolitics

Balakot: Why was the Air Strike Successful
Star Rating Loader Please wait...
Issue Net Edition | Date : 11 Mar , 2019

In the year 1989, we freed five jihadis in exchange for one Rubbaiya. Ten years later in 1999, we traded 160 Indian citizens for three jihadis. This reflects the trajectory of global jihad in India. Post 1999, jihadi proxy war in India entered the ‘hinterland phase’. Bomb blasts in the hinterland became endemic. Between 2004 and 2008 amongst other places, jihadi bombs exploded in Delhi, Jaipur, Varanasi, Ayodhya, Pune, Hyderabad, Bangaluru and finally 26/11 in Mumbai.

Possibly Pakistan took a clue from 26/11 and carried out Pulwama, with the calculation that the present dispensation would not retaliate after the massive suicide attack. They are now in state of shock and paralysis.

Post 26/11, jihadi proxy war by Pakistan entered the phase of Indian political facilitation. This facilitation was by means of collusion and deniability of Pakistan’s role. This period was characterized by the following:

•  26/11 was a conspiracy by RSS or Hindu terrorists!

•  Ishrat Jahan was innocent daughter of India!

•  Samjhauta blasts handiwork of Indians!

•  Malegaon blasts handiwork of Col Purohit and SadhviPragya!

•  Batla House encounter was fake!

•  No danger to Modi’s life!

•  Assassination attempt on Mr. Modi in Patna in October 2013!

Was it because of the political collusion that there was no retaliation or retribution by the maritime jihadi attack on Mumbai (26/11) by Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT), i.e. Pakistan? This was also before the elections in 2009. Possibly Pakistan took a clue from 26/11 and carried out Pulwama, with the calculation that the present dispensation would not retaliate after the massive suicide attack. They are now in state of shock and paralysis.

What is the import of the strike at Balakot by Indian Air Force (IAF) and why it has been successful is discussed below:-

First, because of the political will. The prime minister had displayed this trait earlier in deciding surgical strike across the LoC. It is the political leadership that wields the armed forces. After all, the same instruments were available earlier as well. But the political leadership could not gather the gumption.

It is the political leadership that wields the armed forces. After all, the same instruments were available earlier as well. But the political leadership could not gather the gumption.

Second, the nationalist media played a critical role in mobilizing public opinion in favour of decisive action against Pakistan. There was both anger and expectation amongst the Indian people. The government could ignore it at its own peril. When there is such strong clamour for decisive action, decision making becomes easier for the political leadership.  Vote-bank then is hardly an obstacle.

Third, the Indians were resolute this time that they will not allow Abhinandan to be used as a weapon of blackmail. It is the Indian media that made this possible and it did not go unheeded in Pakistan. They did not want a repeat of 1989 Rubaiyya episode or 1999 IC-814 episode. The regret for capitulating to the jihadis on these two occasions has only accentuated over the years, especially in the new generation.

Fourth, the keys or the initiative to this whole business of Pakistan of proxy war was snatched from Pakistan by the IAF action in Balakot. It heralded a new era in counter-proxy war by India. India delivered the message that it will not be bounded by scale nor the medium, i.e. air, land or sea. It could follow any of these routes. Masood Azhar and Hafiz Saeed may be the professional and spiritual guide to Pakistan military, but for India they are most wanted criminals. India wants them ‘dead or alive’. We reserve the right to act as did US in the case of Osama Bin Laden. This was clearly stated during the press conference of Finance Minister ArunJaitley. Importantly, in this press conference MrJaitley was flanked by two Union Ministers, i.e. NitinGadkari and PiyushGoel. The message was unambiguous.

…the favourable geopolitical situation and geostrategic environment has also contributed in the conduct and success of the air strike.

Fifth, India has called Pakistan’s nuclear bluff and exposed its thin bravado behind nuclear weapons. India has signaled that it is not her manifest destiny to suffer proxy war under the shadow of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons. It has demonstrated that between the end spectrums of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons and proxy war, there is a big distance in between where the conventional options can be used to cripple Pakistan in various and mysterious ways.

If Pakistan refuses to take lessons from the Balakot strike, it may face extinction as a Islamic state entity within 100 years of its existence. Pakistan was born out of India and may be buried by her in the same Indian soil, now called Pakistan.

Sixth, the favourable geopolitical situation and geostrategic environment has also contributed in the conduct and success of the air strike. The reality is that the US and India have a lot to complement each other as far as strategic interests are concerned. In Asia, and Indo-Pacific region, there is congruency of strategic interests between the two. India possibly cannot fulfill its strategic role if it is bedeviled by jihadi terrorism. If our geopolitical destiny is to compete with China, then the Pakistan Proxy war is surely a nagging constraint. China’s support to JeM should be viewed in this perspective. Both the US and the Afghanistan government are victims of Pak orchestrated proxy war. The Af-Pak Pashtun belt has its own dynamics. The proxy war impacts on all the three, i.e. US forces in Afghanistan, Afghan government and India. Some of the Pashtun jihadi groups are Afghan oriented, some are beholden to Pakistan for its help, some are anti-US but not anti-India. There are, however, a large number of Pashtuns who are victims of the duplicity of Punjabi Pakistan. They are anti-Pakistan. It is they, against whom, Pakistan conducted operation Zarb-e-Azb (the sword of Mohamad).

Those who suffered Zarb-e-Azb at the hands of Pakistan military wherein fighter aircraft were also used, how can they be pro-Pakistan? How can tribes of Swat Valley, who also suffered Pak military be loyal to Pakistan? Just two days after the strike, the Sector Commanders in FATA and KP pleaded the tribal leaders and maulanas for convening a loya-jirga (tribal gathering). Why did it become necessary? Is the Pak military doubting the loyalty of some Pashtuns for the Balakot strike? It may be mentioned that Balakot has substantial Pashtun population. The Sector Commanders urged the tribal to form militias to combat India. They also returned the weapons of Marwat and Betani tribes, which was seized to two years ago following internecine war between the two. As it is the Pakistan military, is unnerved at the growing traction of Pashtun Tahfuz movement launched by Pashtun youth. The cadres of this moment have decried Pakistan military activities in the region.

The Air Strikes could be done also because there was no political subversion. If there was no political subversion in the past, the life of Pakistan’s proxy war would not have been so long.

There is great satisfaction rather joy in Afghanistan over the Indian Air Strike at Balakot. Rahmatullah Nabil, former Spy Chief and contender for President said that this should have been done long back and suggested that Iran should act similarly against Jaish-al-Adl. Nabil is of the perspective that a strong India is capable of putting such pressure on Pakistan, wherein leverages can be gained by both US and Afghanistan against India. In the UN Security Council, the Afghan government has questioned the legitimacy of Pakistan’s involvement in talks with Taliban, which is an Afghan insurgent group.

Seventh, the Air Strikes could be done also because there was no political subversion. If there was no political subversion in the past, the life of Pakistan’s proxy war would not have been so long. 26/11 was a political conspiracy to ban the RSS. Hence, nothing was done in retaliation or retribution. The extent of political manipulation in India by Pakistan for furtherance of proxy war could be gauged by the fact that a former Chief Minister, also a former Home Minister of Union of India thanked Pakistan for elections in J&K. Those who perpetrated the massive suicide attack in Pulwama probably calculated that a government in election mode will never take the risk of retaliation, thus, killing the image of the prime minister. This constituency is hugely upset by the strike at Balakot.

Eighth, such actions cannot be carried out without the risk taking ability in the leadership. If there was no risk taking prime minister, supported by risk taking NSA and executed by imaginative and risk taking air chief, Balakot strike would never have been possible. Risk taking ability is borne out of character and professionalism. There are heated debates in the country as to why the government is taking credit for the Balakot air strike. The question is why not? In the Higher Defence Organization, the highest decision making body is the Cabinet Committee on Political Affairs (CCPA). It is the CCPA, which decides whether to respond to a threat or not and in what time frame. The ultimate risk in taking decisions of waging war or punitive actions or defensive measures is that of the Prime Minister, like:

•  Nehru is blamed for not using the IAF during 1962 war. It is believed that the setback in 1962 took his life.

•  In 1965 war, even though India was victorious, as per many sources, it was Shashtri who paid with his life at Tashkent because of the machinations of external powers.

•  In 1971, Mrs Gandhi got the credit for the victory, and then she paid with her life for Operation Blue Star in 1984.

The foreign policy establishment of India rose to the occasion and isolated Pakistan. Countries, which Pakistan reached out in panic include USA, China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, UAE, and its very close ally Turkey, but of no avail.

•  Under the prime ministership of Rajiv Gandhi, India initiated Op Pawan in Sri Lanka.  He too paid with his life.

•  In the US operations against Osama Bin Laden, the world only remembers Obama and not the Generals because the ultimate risk was that of President.

Ninth, the professionalism of the Air Chief was the most critical factor. The present air chief is an original thinker on matters of employment of air power. Earlier in 2018, he, in exercise Gagan Shakti had generated 12,000 fighter sorties in three days, thus giving a signal to India’s enemies about the readiness and capability of the IAF in meeting two-front situation. Again in December 2018, a massive logistic exercise, the Indian Air Force transport fleet carried 540 tonnes of load to Ladakh in a matter of six hours. The total tonnage required for air maintenance of Ladakh is 3000 tonnes in a month. The Air Chief has brought in the air dimension in the counter-proxy war with great professional finesse. It should not be forgotten that Pakistan had brought the maritime dimension to the jihadi proxy war by way of 26/11. In other words, the IAF has snatched the key to calibration and escalation of proxy war from Pakistan and given it to the Indian dispensation.

Tenth, diplomatic ground work towards the air strike was as critical. The foreign policy establishment of India rose to the occasion and isolated Pakistan. Countries, which Pakistan reached out in panic include USA, China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, UAE, and its very close ally Turkey, but of no avail. The diplomacy of India had pre-empted Pakistan’s diplomacy. Abhinandan was handed for two reasons, i.e. India’s diplomatic offensive, and pro-active and pre-emptive posturing. When a country is pro-active and pre-emptive, it engenders different sets of response. The enemy wonders as to when and where and how would be the next strike.

Eleventh, finally the success was also because of the excellent selection of target. It was on edge of Swat Valley, on the edge of Gilgit-Baltistan, away from PoK, in the Pashtun Belt, 120 kms from Islamabad, 70 Kms from Abottabad and 35 Kms away from Karakorm highway.

Finally, Balakot has historical association with jihad, shariat and caliphate. Now it is Masood Azhar, 200 years ago it was Syed Ahmed Barelvi. Majority of Pakistani are of Barelvi orientation. It was in 1826 that he located himself in Peshawar to launch jihad against the rule of Maharaja Ranjit Singh. His mujahideens fought many battles with the Sikh forces, but due to resistance of Pashtuns, drifted towards Kashmir. Barelvi wrote to his ally, Nawab of Tonk, that Balakot secured by mountains and rivers is the ideal place for furtherance of jihad against the Sikh forces. Once Balakot is captured, he will just roll down along the Jhelum River into Kashmir. Following the battle in Balakot in 1831, the Sikhs beheaded Sayed Ahmed Barelvi. Is the same fate waiting for Masood Azhar?

Rate this Article
Star Rating Loader Please wait...
The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

RSN Singh

is a former military intelligence officer who later served in the Research and Analysis Wing, or R&AW and author of books Asian Strategic and Military Perspective and The Military Factor in Pakistan. His latest book is The Unmaking of Nepal.

More by the same author

Post your Comment

2000characters left

3 thoughts on “Balakot: Why was the Air Strike Successful

  1. Only nationalist govt can take such actions. Policy should be to persistently bleed Pak where ever possible. Mean time build your defence so that Pak should think thousand time before taking any nefarious activity.

  2. circumstantially, 26/11 and pulwama attacks looks like handy works of INC dirty department (planning) executed by pakis. congis did gain after 26/11 electorally. pulwama attacks would have made gains for congis if there were no retaliation from bjp.

  3. Dear sir, as you are stating that the air attack was executed across the LOC, while C Udaybhaskar, a defence expert , tells us in an article published in Dainik Jagaran that the LOC was not crossed & the strike was carried out from Indian airspace by our Aircrafts.

More Comments Loader Loading Comments