The unprecedented use of image of Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthman, a serving IAF officer, indicates the low to which the ruling political party is prepared to stoop. This too after the deafeningly raucous politicization of the 2016 ‘surgical strikes’ and the recent cross border airstrikes. It is all the more obnoxious because the same Attorney General KK Venugopal who in Supreme Court is currently shuffling the same classified papers from “stolen” to “authentic photocopies”, last year was himself representing the Ministry of Defence (MoD) in court to deny disability pension to another IAF pilot with spinal injuries caused while effecting from his aircraft. Viewing these together explains the charade that is being enacted and how the military is actually treated.
The political slugfest over bombing of Balkot will likely continue till general elections or even beyond – akin to the Rafale controversy. Common sense indicates that it is impossible to count the dead in a target subjected to 1000kg bombs. So much for the 250, 300, 400 killed claim. Home Minister RajnathSingh says NTRO picked up 300 mobile phones before the airstrike. Not beyond him to think only terrorists use mobiles in Pakistan. He is probably unaware that by May 2018, mobile phone users in Pakistan had reached150.32 million. With ISRO covering 87% Pakistani territory, post bombing destruction caused by IAF would have been instantly picked up by our satellites. Routine foreign satellites over Pakistan would have similarly done so. With anticipated escalation, it is also possible that countries like US and Israel were monitoring Pakistan post the Pulwamaattack. Conflicting reports and satellite images of destruction caused in Balakot are flooding the media with accompanying political rhetoric, not that satellite photographs cannot be photoshopped. But the bottom-line is Balakot was struck in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa deep inside Pakistan, calling off Pakistan’s nuclear bluff.
Now what beyond Balakot? Probably asked to do so, Sanjay Leela Bhansali has embarked on a Bollywoodmovie on Balakot. Pakistan appears one step ahead having announced release of the movie ‘Sher Dil’ on March 22, 2019, depicting dogfight between Indian and Pakistani air forces. Teaser of ‘Sher Dil’ is circulating on social media. The movie will probably show PAF won the day over the IAF and only uninhabited periphery of Balakot was hit in Indian air strikes. Whether Bhansali beats the release date of ‘Sher Dil’ or not is not material because Pakistan’s Supreme Court has banned screening of Indian movies and TV shows in Pakistan. The under production biopic on Prime Minister Modi will naturally include Balakot and will probably be released before elections. It wouldn’t be surprising if Pakistan makes a biopic on ImranKhan underling he was denied Nobel Peace Prize despite freeing Wing Commander Abhinandan. Given the precedence of ‘Surgical Strike Day’, institutionalization of February 27-28 as ‘Balakot Day’ can also be expected albeit it would be better that IAF’s annual fire power demo be held on these dates.
Pakistan’s Interior Minister says “44 people linked to several militant groups have been taken into preventive custody”. These include close relatives of Masood Azhar – Mufti Abdur Rauf and Hammad Azhar. But “preventive custody” by Pakistan means “protective custody” in real terms; terrorists free to meet anyone and treated as state guests, as was the case with Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi and Hafiz Saeeddescribed in Pakistani media. Pakistan has announced freezing of accounts and assets linked to organizations banned by the UN Security Council (UNSC). According to Pakistan’s foreign office official, this means government will take control of assets and all accounts of organizations banned by UNSC. Pakistan has also banned Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD) and Falah-e-Insaniyat Foundation (FIF); offshoots of Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT).
It is naïve to think above action by Pakistan is due to the Indian airstrikes and diplomatic efforts. These docontribute but the real reason is IMF loan Pakistan seeks because of its economic mess, not that China, Saudi Arabia, UAE and US will allow economic collapse of Pakistan. More significant is the need to acknowledge Pakistan’s charade of going after terrorists, who are covert extensions of Pakistani military. Name change of terrorist organizations in Pakistan is a done thing. Mother terrorist organizations have multiple fronts, enabling continued funding through any one front. Taking over assets of terrorist organizations and cadres in ‘protective custody’ implies the military will organize terrorist training and employment more systemically – no scare from Finance Minister Arun Jaitley’s boast India can undertake Osama-like action. How much Pakistan is curbing terrorism can be viewed from the YouTube clip ‘Jihad 101 – Taliban Basic Training in Pakistan’.
As to euphoria over world opinion veering towards pressuring UNSC to declare Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) chief Masood Azhar a ‘terrorist’, Pakistani military has already announced JeM simply doesn’t exist in Pakistan. That also takes care of the speculation China may not oppose UNSC branding Masood Azharterrorist. Political jingoism notwithstanding, it would also be prudent to read the fine print of signals emanating from Washington. The US has merely said it has “taken note of” Indian claim of having shot down Pakistani F-16. This is different from accepting India’s claim and punishing Pakistan. Not much should also be read into US reducing visa rules for Pakistan from five years to one year. In February 2017, General John W Nicholson, Commander, Resolute Support and US Forces in Afghanistan had told media that of 98 US-designated terrorist groups world-wide, 20 are in Af-Pak. What he didn’t elaborate is how many of these 20 are in Pakistan and that all 20 are supported by Pakistan. As to calls for UNSC to declare Pakistan “terrorist” state, do we have the gumption of doing so by our Parliament?
India and Pakistan resumed border trade across the Line of Control at Uri on March 5 with 35 trucks leaving for Chakothi on the Pakistan side and same number of trucks sent to India from Pakistan. The usual practice is J&K traders making overpriced vouchers and the excess money coming from Pakistan cycled to fund terror; the J&K State machinery taking their own slice. It wouldn’t be surprising if the practice is continuing. Pakistan has read the signal that having achieved what it wanted for coming elections, the Indian government is now unlikely to go beyond rhetoric. That is why early resumption of border trade and readiness to receive Pakistan’s Kartarpur delegation on March 14. That is why Pakistan continues to bomb villages to kill maximum India civilians, disrupt normal life and build dissent against the administration. In effect, it is business as usual for Pakistan. That is why the Jammu grenade attack and continuing ceasefire violations.
We may increase artillery bombardment including using Bofors guns but that doesn’t matter much to the jaundiced Pakistani military and the terrorists organizations. Propaganda that Pakistan is scared would be producing mirth on the other side. Modi’spublic announcements he will sort out terrorists in Pakistan by “ghar mein ghuss kar maroonga” is good for politicking, but just that. So far India has shown no resolve for ‘Pakistan mein ghusse rehna’ to administer Pakistan’s 1000 cuts policy in reverse. That must be the priority rather than total focus on elections and votes.