Balakot as a target was diligently selected after confirmed intelligence reports of presence of terror camps. Words were carefully chosen to justify the strikes and garner the needed international support. “Non-military” meant that the strikes were not carried on any military targets but on selected terror hubs. “Pre-emptive” meant that the action was taken as part of India’s right to self defense. The justification on the strikes was emphasised upon to gain legitimacy of a cross border action and to restraint Pakistan from any retaliation. India, took almost two weeks to garner international support for the strikes.
The international isolation of Pakistan after the attack on the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) convoy and the resulting Balakot strikes reflect upon a resurgent India’s resolve to strike against terror. Although, the success of the strikes by India cannot be measured in short term gains achieved, this article aims to bring out the effects of the diplomatic, economic and military measures taken by India post the Pulwama attack. India’s response was characterised by a careful mix of application of hard power juxtaposed over coercive measures to push Pakistan into isolation, thereby hitting its soft spots and compelling it to act. While it may be too early to ascertain this as a success story, it can definitely be analysed as a potential case study for future actions.
The ghastly attack on an administrative convoy of the CRPF on 14 Feb 2019 at Pulwama, J&K was the worst in almost a decade. The attack by a Jaish-e-Mohammad recruited lone attacker killed 40 soldiers of the paramilitary force and injured as many. This took the death toll to more than 501 in the second month of 2019 itself and brings the total number to 472342 lives lost in various accounts of terror related incidents.
Over the decades spent in fighting cross border terrorism, India’s much predictable stand during such situations has been to seek a proportionate revenge and then let go of the pressure on Pakistan. On most occasions, the revenge is limited to diplomatic sanctions or an international outrage in a global forum with limited support. The actions were mostly influenced by local political pressure and internal criticism, devoid of a consistent counter terror strategy or diplomatic roadmap. Terror attacks in the past of similar scale like the 26/11 Mumbai attacks or the attack on Pathankot Air Force base, hopelessly concluded with a standard verbal condemnation at various international forums. However, the last few instances seem to indicate that a carefully drafted roadmap has been prepared to deal with such state sponsored attacks and is being executed diligently. The Uri attacks resulted in a cross border retaliatory action inside POK that India openly claimed and even managed a significant international support. The airstrikes on Jaish camps at Balakot based on actionable intelligence can safely be presumed to be a part of this carefully drafted roadmap.
Response post Pulwama attacks
While the military options were deliberated upon, India persistently maintained its diplomatic assertiveness for a right to retaliate. This not only bought crucial preparatory time for IAF, but also acted as a measure of deception. A carefully scripted narrative was prepared to vindicate India’s compulsion of a military action and to achieve the desired international support. The international community not only did unequivocally condemn the terror attacks, but for the first time in a firm voice also came in support of any action taken by India against terrorism. The US President Donald Trump gave a statement saying that he could understand New Delhi’s desire for something “very strong” as it had lost almost 50 people. The Russian embassy denounced terrorism in all forms and manifestations and reiterated the need to “combat these inhuman acts with decisive and collective response.”3
Almost 50 other countries from across the world stood by India and condemned the attacks, including the European Union and Israel.
Almost 50 other countries from across the world stood by India and condemned the attacks, including the European Union and Israel. While some squarely blamed Pakistan for the attacks, others maintained a balanced posture. The French foreign minister Yves Le Drian in his message said that,
“France condemned the attack in India and calls upon all states to fight effectively against terrorist networks and the channels of finance and also prevent the cross border movement of terror groups like the Jaish-e-Mohammad.”4
Iran lost 27 soldiers of its elite Revolutionary Guards to a similar attack in its Sistan-Baluchistan province. The attacks were carried out by a Pak based terror outfit, Jaish Al Adl5. Even a strong and traditional ally like Iran, openly blamed Pakistan for the attacks and urged it to take stronger actions against the perpetrators. The UNSC condemned the attack in Pulwama and once again reiterated that “the perpetrators, organisers, financiers and sponsors of these reprehensible acts of terrorism should be made accountable and brought to justice.”6
The diplomatic statements and condemnation had an overwhelming support for India’s actions. At a time, when the world is suffering from the perils of terrorism, India’s stand for a decisive action found many advocates. As the options were placed on the table, these international responses and the diplomatic outreach in the meanwhile played an important role in choosing the most suitable course of action.
Economic responses by India
A slew of complimentary economic/financial responses were undertaken on the sidelines of Pulwama. The most immediate was the revoking of Most Favoured Nation (MFN) status to Pakistan which was long overdue. It is rather a surprising fact that Pakistan never offered the same status to India even though it is a member of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and is bounded by the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT.) The move increased the customs duty on imports from Pakistan by 200 percent7. Significant to note that India got away with this move which is otherwise a tool exclusively used to punish trade defaulters. Even though it had limited economic impact and was more symbolic in nature it did assert India’s intentions to interrupt commercial discourse in response to terrorism.
India’s growing diplomatic clout and the support for actions post Pulwama, mounted pressure on Pakistani government for an unconditional release of the Indian pilot.
The next step was the lobbying at the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) to blacklist Pakistan, in its plenary meet held on 22 Feb at Paris. Notable here is the fact that Pakistan has already been put in the ‘greylist’ of FATF since Oct 2018, for its inability to take adequate measures to curb terror financing. An FATF blacklist would put the already fledgling economy of Pakistan into a deeper conundrum. It may lead to downgrading of the country’s credit rating by multilateral lenders like International Monetary Fund, World Bank, Asian Development Bank, European Union and also a reduction in risk rating by Moody’s, S&P and Fitch. Usually an FATF blacklist is followed by a blacklist from the EU as well. One important aspect worth mentioning is that the current Vice President of FATF is from China and had the powers to prevent a Pakistan ‘greylisting’.
India’s military response
The military option chosen by India to destroy Jaish-e-Mohammad camps using IAF was carefully coined as ‘non-military, pre-emptive strikes’. In a meticulously planned and executed mission, India managed to push the red line by striking deep inside mainland Pak territory. Balakot as a target was diligently selected after confirmed intelligence reports of presence of terror camps. Words were carefully chosen to justify the strikes and garner the needed international support. “Non-military” meant that the strikes were not carried on any military targets but on selected terror hubs. “Pre-emptive” meant that the action was taken as part of India’s right to self defense. The justification on the strikes was emphasised upon to gain legitimacy of a cross border action and to restraint Pakistan from any retaliation. India, took almost two weeks to garner international support for the strikes. The announcement was made symbolically by the top diplomat of the country and was meant to convey the exact tone and tenor expected out of a responsible power.
The Indian airstrikes were followed by a Pakistani aerial misadventure wherein they jettisoned their payload in the Indian territory without targeting any location. Indian jets scrambled to retaliate and in the ensuing dog fight on 27 Feb, one MiG-21 crashed and the pilot ejected in Pakistani territory. The capture of the Indian pilot and the subsequent treatment meted to him on camera, in contravention of the Geneva Convention drew significant international condemnation. What Pakistan thought would be a major achievement, ultimately turned out to be an embarrassment. To add on to this the confusing and contradictory statements by PM Imran Khan and the DG ISPR on the number of pilots captured and aircrafts shot, drew serious questions on the credibility of Pakistan’s claim.
India’s growing diplomatic clout and the support for actions post Pulwama, mounted pressure on Pakistani government for an unconditional release of the Indian pilot. The diplomatic onslaughts supplemented by India’s politico-military will, cornered Pakistan as there were no voices that called India as the belligerent nation. Rather, a significant amount of support came from the West for India’s will to act against terror. The most notable being the US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo describing it as a “counter terrorism action.” France’s Ministry of Europe and Foreign Affairs in a statement said it recognised “India’s legitimacy in ensuring security against cross-border terrorism”. It called on Pakistan “to put an end to the activities of the terrorist groups established in its territory”.8
Diplomatic gains since Balakot strikes
In the aftermath of the strikes, amidst increasing tension, India suspended cross border trade with Pakistan. India’s attempt to choke an already suffocating Pakistani economy did have its impact on supply and prices on essential commodities there9. PM Imran Khan desperately lobbied for de-escalation and it was surprising to see a subtle indication of a ‘white flag’ in all his speeches. Even the military establishment in Pakistan was surprisingly quiet and non rhetorical. A significant effort was diverted by the Director General of the Inter Services Public Relations (DG ISPR) in substantiating the ‘no losses incurred theory’, rather than the usual rhetoric banter typical of the Pakistan Army. The heightened state of preparedness displayed by the Indian Army was a serious concern for the operationally stretched Pakistan Army which started mobilising troops from its Western borders.
With world powers on our side, there is no better time than this to steer a decisive outcome on the war against terrorism.
To add to its worries, the Organisation of Islamic Countries (OIC) invited the Indian foreign minister Mrs Sushma Swaraj to deliver the inaugural address at its plenary meet. The OIC has for ages been Pakistan’s chosen platform to run its anti-India and Kashmir campaign. Since, its first session in 1969 when India was ‘deinvited’ due to Pakistan’s objections, the present stand of the OIC is a major boost in India’s diplomatic arsenal. The fact that the move was proposed by Pakistan’s long time ally UAE is even more significant. Mrs Swaraj aptly used the forum to express India’s stand against terrorism and its resolve for peace. The fact that it happened at the backdrop of the Balakot strikes put Pakistan in an embarrassing situation and it abstained from the meet. Pakistan lost out the only platform it had to put across its anti-India narrative.
Finally, the long drawn issue of declaring JeM Chief and founder, Maulana Masood Azhar as a global terrorist was brought to a desired conclusion on the 01 May 2019.10 India’s demand for including Masood Azhar in the 1267 UN sanctions list were put on ‘technical hold’ by China for a long time. Persistent diplomatic efforts and back channel negotiations post the Pulwama attacks complimented by mounting international pressure on China resulted in achieving the desired outcome in favour of India. It can be seen as a breakthrough in Sino-India relations and in line with the much prophesised ‘Wuhan spirit’. China’s move could be attributed to multiple reasons. Notable amongst them are its move to appease the international community for support in BRI and to secure its investments in Pakistan through the CPEC corridor. Escalation of tension between India and Pakistan could jeopardise billions worth of investment made by China in CPEC. Although, it is too early to guess what were put on stakes for such a bargain, but at the moment it can be assumed that Pakistan is more likely to have made the compromises.
Actions by Pakistan
Apart from these, there were several actions taken by Pakistan in the aftermath of the Pulwama attacks that could have far reaching effect on India’s war against terrorism. PM Imran Khan ordered immediate detention of more than 121 members of various proscribed terror outfits. The interior ministry of Pakistan took administrative and management control of more than 182 madaris11, 34 schools and social institutions that were known breeding grounds for religious extremism. Although, the Pak government attributed the crackdown to the National Action Plan (NAP) that came in the wake of 2014 Peshawar attacks on an Army school, the recent events did have an overbearing impact. Further, Pakistan passed a legislation to streamline the procedure for implementation of UN sanctions on banned outfits and individuals.
While the tactical gains post the airstrike would be difficult to ascertain, the diplomatic and strategic relevance of India’s action post Pulwama is bound to have a lasting impact. If diplomacy is the continuation of war by other means, then India has definitely gained an upper hand in this battle. India’s willingness to push the envelope on deterrence imposed by nuclear parity has taken Pakistan by surprise. Thus, a careful mix of diplomatic coercion, military action and political resolve has so far proven to be a successful recipe to counter Pakistan in the proxy war. These three components are however inter dependent and cannot bear results if practiced in isolation. It is what nations do during peace that determines how they end up during war. In the long run, India should continue galvanising its diplomatic support and supplement it with the right mix of military and economic measures to drag Pakistan to toe the desired line. With world powers on our side, there is no better time than this to steer a decisive outcome on the war against terrorism. Pakistan’s economy is straggling and is on a permanent ventilator supported by IMF, Beijing and Saudi Arabia (Mohammad Bin Salman). Beijing and Riyadh are true blood entrepreneurs. They will never jeopardise their investments in an unstable Pakistan infested by extremists and will go out of their way to coerce Pakistan to take corrective measures. The US is looking at a complete pullout from Afghanistan and is hopeful of a negotiation with Taliban. Thus, it seeks a relative state of stability in the region to ensure that the transition of power is smooth. The OIC has realised that a crippling Pakistan is no good to it and hence is considerably inclined to India’s interest.
Lastly, Pakistan now, more than ever realises the diminishing returns of its proxy war campaign against India. The only way to make it relent is by mounting the cost each time such a misadventure is directed against India. It may be too early to expect a change in Pakistan’s strategy against India, making it economically and diplomatically unaffordable should be the most potent strategy to adopt.
datasheet-terrorist-attack-fatalities. (2019). Retrieved from https://satp.org/datasheet-terrorist-attack/fatalities/india-jammukashmir
datasheet-terrorist-attack-fatalities. (2019). Retrieved from https://satp.org/datasheet-terrorist-attack/fatalities/india-jammukashmir
US, Russia and France condemn Pulwama attack. (2019). Retrieved from http://www.newsonair.com/Main-News-Details.aspx?id=359746
étrangères, M. (2019). India – Terrorist attack – Communiqué issued by Jean-Yves Le Drian, Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs (14.02.19). Retrieved from https://www.diplomatie.gouv.fr/en/country-files/india/events/article/india-terrorist-attack-communique-issued-by-jean-yves-le-drian-minister-for
Tamara Qiblawi, C. (2019). Suicide attack on Iran’s Revolutionary Guard kills at least 23. Retrieved from https://edition.cnn.com/2019/02/13/middleeast/iran-explosion-revolutionary-guards-intl/index.html
Security Council Press Statement on Suicide Bombing in Jammu and Kashmir | Meetings Coverage and Press Releases. (2019). Retrieved from https://www.un.org/press/en/2019/sc13712.doc.htm
Jose, T. (2019). India’s withdrawal of MFN status to Pakistan: meaning and implications – Indian Economy. Retrieved from https://www.indianeconomy.net/splclassroom/indias-withdrawal-mfn-status-pakistan-meaning-implications/
Staff, S., & Staff, S. (2019). IAF air strikes: France advises restraint but says it stands with India in fight against terrorism. Retrieved from https://scroll.in/latest/914736/iaf-air-strikes-france-advises-restraint-but-says-it-stands-with-india-in-fight-against-terrorism
Reporter, T. (2019). Chilli, tomato not healthy options for consumers’ pocket. Retrieved from https://www.dawn.com/news/1469301
1Mohammed Masood Azhar Alvi | United Nations Security Council. (2019). Retrieved from https://www.un.org/securitycouncil/content/mohammad-masood-azhar-alvi
Pakistan Says It Has Taken Control Of 182 Religious Schools. (2019). Retrieved from https://www.rferl.org/a/pakistan-says-it-has-taken-control-of-182-religious-schools/29808755.html