The decision to go up the spiral ladder by NDA 2 Government and use Indian Air Force (IAF) against terrorism is a new normal. The bold air attack in the wee hours of the morning of 26 February at Balakot, on mainland Pakistan was a non-military, preemptive strike against an established training camp of Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) and was not likely to be a one off attack. India has made it clear that it may resort to such attacks if Pakistan does not rein in the terrorist organisations. It showed the resolve of the elected government in India to take action against terrorists to avert future Pulwama type attacks in Jammu and Kashmir or rest of India. The retaliatory attack by Pakistan was on expected lines and was successfully averted.
Pakistan was caught off guard and in the existing hostility matrix had not factored in an air attack on its mainland or in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir. Initially, in denial of any damage due to the Indian insertion, Pakistan Director General Inter-Services Public Relations (DG ISPR) stated that Indian aircrafts had violated their air space and had been chased away by the alert Pakistan Air Force planes. Once India claimed they had destroyed a JeM camp and killed between 250-300 terrorists; Pakistani authorities took a u turn and announced that this aggression on part of India would be avenged. As a riposte, ten Pakistani aircrafts including F-16s tried to violate the Indian airspace in broad day light o. 27 February but were challenged by IAF air defence aircraft ex-Awantipur. In the ensuing dog fight one Paki F-16 was brought down by the Indians and the Pakis destroyed one MIG -21 and captured Wing Commander Abhinandan who had bailed out.
In the three days from 26 to 28 February the Indian and Pakistani media went berserk and created a war hysteria. They were ably helped by retired defence officers, bureaucrats and academic defence analysts. Both the countries were stressing on their standard narratives with India insisting that Pakistan should bring to book all terrorist organisations and United Nations should put Masood Azhar on international terrorist list like Hafiz Muhammad Saeed; while Pakistan remained in a constant denial of assisting the terrorist groups. Even the gesture of releasing Wing Commander Abhinandan by Pakistan was viewed by India with suspicion and the Indian media declared that Pakistan was brought to its knees due to pressure by the international community.
I think time has come for India to consider dumping this outdated diplomatic tool of bilateralism. Bilateralism had a relevance during the Cold War when India was not part of either US or USSR alliances but was part of the non-aligned nations group. We dealt with member nations on bilateral basis inspite of the fact to which group, NATO or Warsaw Pact; was that nation belonging to. The Panchsheel Doctrine based on five tenets of bilateralism which we tried with China in late fifties failed miserably when China attacked India in 1962. During Kargil crisis and after the Balakot incidence we have sought the intervention of USA, UN, France, UK and Germany.
It is felt in some quarters that Pakistan has been totally isolated by the international community and most Indians would like to believe it. The truth is far from it and all those nations who have exhorted Pakistan to take action against terrorists have engaged Pakistan as parts of alliances in solving the Afghanistan problem whether it is US- Afghan Government-Taliban-Pakistan or Russia-Taliban-Pakistan-China group. However, Pakistan is taking symbolic actions by arresting large number of known terrorists including brother and son of Masood Azhar and restricting the moves of other terrorist groups. How sincere are the efforts of Pakistan in roping in of all terrorist groups, only time will tell.
The situation has been diffused for the time being by timely return of our pilot by Pakistan and Indian politicians are back to work for electioneering and mud-slinging onto each other. Where do we go from here? While India will be pre occupied in elections for the next three months, Pakistan will do well in showing its genuine intent by ensuring that no major terrorist incidence takes place during this period. By carrying out aerial surgical strikes deep into hinterland of Pakistan and obtaining unconditional release of its captured pilot, India has exhibited its resolve to fight terrorism fiercely. It also reserves the right to repeat the attacks as and when felt deemed.
While India has won this round on moral grounds and pressure from international community, there are yawning gaps in the capability building of the three forces. The defence acquisitions in the pipeline have to be speeded up. Whereas, we certainly need big ticket aircraft and warships, the bureaucrats and the army brass need to lower their eyes and address the needs of the infantry man on the ground who is largely deployed in insurgency areas. The infantry does not have a state of the art rifle, Sten gun, hand grenade, water bottle and modified vehicles for specialist weapons. To effectively take out terrorist leaders and minimise own casualties, infantry needs latest version of sniper rifles. Pakistan has already acquired them and is inflicting casualties to own troops on the Line of Control (LC).
With the entire Balakot incident coming as a shot in the arm, the Modi Government is likely to return to power after the elections. Regardless of which so ever party comes to power, the new government should make an attempt to engage Pakistan in talks and also work wholeheartedly to get normalcy back in the Kashmir Valley. This has been the hottest winter in the last decade as far as insurgency and violence levels are concerned in the sub-zero temperatures. The levels of alienation have gone back to 1987 levels. We should not be in a hurry to impose an elected government on people until security forces have brought in levels of insurgency under manageable limits.