In a recent article, Professor C Christine Fair argued: “Make no mistake: The interest of Pakistan’s deep state is best served by a Modi victory. [Prime Minister Narendra] Modi and his BJP [Bharatiya Janata Party] seem to lend credence to the Pakistani deep state’s narratives about ‘Hindu India’ and the safety of Muslims within it….
“Modi’s tenure also provides Pakistan’s various Islamist proxies with bountiful recruitment opportunities. By affording Modi to demonstrate his muscularity as he did in Uri – sensationalized in the recent eponymous film – Pakistan is giving Modi yet another opportunity to burnish his tough credentials vis-a-vis his notoriously tepid Congress competitors. Also, given the tough election season ahead, Modi has no choice but to oblige.”
But Pakistan’s deep state miscalculated that the Pulwama car bombing of February 14 by Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM), which killed 40 and injured 70, would enable India to discover its new red lines. Instead of heeding US President Donald Trump’s warning that India was planning “something big,” Pakistan indulged in statements that any action by India would be responded to in equal measure. Usual reports about the curbing of the JeM emerged, and were then denied within 24 hours.
Given that the Indian Air Force (IAF) didn’t cross the Line of Control even during the 1999 Kargil Conflict, Pakistan discounted any plans for an air strike. Balakot, Pakistan, is a major JeM base known to the US for nearly 15 years. The US had also picked up militants who had trained in the Balakot camp, according to secret documents that have now been declassified. Pakistan said the Indian air strikes hardly caused any damage to any structure in Balakot. But India says it has evidence, likely satellite photographs, but has not released them yet.
The Indian air strikes were humiliating and probably far worse than America’s Abbottabad raid to kill Osama bin Laden, considering that India has been Pakistan’s traditional rival. But while JeM has inflicted scores of casualties in India through multiple terror attacks, India must proportion some of the blame for releasing Maulana Masood Azhar, the JeM founder, in 1999. Indian capitulated to the hijackers who held nearly 200 passengers hostage on an Indian Airlines flight.
On Wednesday, Pakistani jets violated Indian airspace to attack an Indian brigade headquarters, and even fired a missile. One Pakistani F-16 was apparently shot down, which India claims fell in the Lam Valley across the Line of Control with both pilots ejecting. India has released photos of the F-16 debris. However, the F-16 pilot parachuting down was not caught on camera.
In the dogfight with the IAF, one Indian MiG-21 Bison was hit after its pilot reportedly downed the F-16, crashing in Pakistan-administered Kashmir, leading to the capture of the pilot. Footage of the Indian pilot being beaten up while being taken into custody is on Twitter, as also of him being questioned later by Pakistani military. Earlier Pakistan suspended the service of the Samjhauta Express, an India-Pakistan train, which India later canceled entirely. Pakistan also closed its airspace completely, even to Afghan commercial flights to India.
After this, on Thursday, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan announced in a joint session of the National Assembly that the captured Indian pilot would be released the next day as a “gesture of peace.”
Pakistan has always used the threat of nuclear war to deter a conventional retaliation by India. But this time Pakistan seems to have miscalculated. Imran Khan chaired a meeting of the National Command Authority, apparently to signal the threat of a nuclear attack. Or perhaps this was meant to attract foreign intervention to defuse the crisis. The Karachi Stock Exchange had plummeted by 8% in two days.
Interestingly, former Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf had warned two days before the Indian strikes that “if we drop one bomb, they [India] will drop 20.” The question of nuclear war in the India-Pakistan context does not arise. The ball is now in Pakistan’s court, to show visible and credible action against known terror groups operating on its soil.
As for India, it must examine its options in case of another terror attack in the future. It also has to recognize that odd strikes on terror launch pads and camps are unlikely to force Pakistan’s deep state to take action.
The question to ponder is whether India will change its tactics. Can it adopt sub-conventional methods to target and neutralize key ideologues and leaders of known terror groups, as the US has done in Afghanistan and Pakistan since it was attacked on September 11, 2001? Both sides have been engaged in a protracted conflict that has seen numerous wars and the loss of thousands of lives. Unless measures are taken to address acts of terror from Pakistan, the situation can only escalate. It is time for the international community to recognize this and discard Pakistan’s nuclear blackmail.