'After Rafale, Pak Won't Come Near LoC'

Indian Air Force (IAF) Chief B S Dhanoa on Monday said that Rafale jets will the best combat aircraft in the Indian sub-continent and once these are inducted, Pakistan won’t dare to come near the Line of Control (LoC) or the international border.

In an exclusive talk with ANI on Rafale’s air-to air capability in a combat situation, Dhanoa said, “When the Rafale comes in, it will ensure that the deterrence of our air defence will increase manifold and they (Pakistan) will not come anywhere near our Line of Control or border. That kind of capability we will possess for which presently they (Pakistan) don’t have an answer.”

On the sidelines of a function organised here for the induction of four US-made Chinook helicopters, he was asked about the situation on February 27 when Pakistani F-16 jets tried to attack Indian military positions, a day after the IAF strikes in Balakot in Pakistan in response to the Pulwama terror attack.

The first Rafale aircraft under a 36-plane deal with France is scheduled to be delivered in September to the IAF.

In military circles, there has been a talk that if Rafales were in the IAF, these would have not have allowed the Pakistan planes to come close to the LoC. The Rafales will be armed with Meteor air-to-air missiles which have the capability of shooting down enemy planes at strikes ranges upto 150 kms.

Air Chief Marshal Dhanoa asserted that at present, it is going to be the best aircraft in terms of the weapons capability in the Indian sub-continent and would be also the best in comparison with what China and Pakistan have.

“We are going to get Rafale in the month of September. Rafale will give a tremendous jump to our capability and it is superior to all the aircraft in the inventory of both our adversaries,” he said.

He also outlined the salient features of the Chinook helicopters and said that these aircraft will be very useful for the IAF in high-altitude regions.

“Ability to transfer heavy loads and acclimatise troops from high altitude into another valley is a game-changing capability. If the enemy surprises us in any such valley, we can move troops immediately to such spots to get into battle. Our ability to do this is now enhanced for day and night with this helicopter,” he said.

Dhanoa, while asserting that inter-valley troop transfer will be helpful for the Indian military along borders with Pakistan and China, outlined that “the high-altitude game is more with China than Pakistan”.

Meanwhile, in response to a question on Pakistan’s claim that Air Chief Marshal Mujahid Anwar Khan flew a JF-17 and led from the front on its National Day, Chief Marshal Dhanoa took a dig at him saying he should be asked where was flying the fighter plane, in the rear cockpit?

Addressing the media during his visit to the Air Force Station at Jodhpur last year, he had said, “Rafale is always a need for the Air Force. It (fighter jets) took a long time to come. Others have upgraded their squadrons.”

The Rafale jet deal controversy has been on the boil over the last few months. Congress has alleged irregularities in the deal for 36 aircraft and claimed that the Narendra Modi government is buying them at a price much higher than the one that was being negotiated by the previous government.

(ANI)

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#PulwamaRevenge – ‘India Responded Well’

I got to know about the Pulwama terror attack through television and my first reaction was sorrow mixed with anger. I kept wondering as to for how long our Indian soldiers will just be numbers; for how long will we keep losing our military and paramilitary forces for issues that can be prevented? I am glad that many sections of the media kept asking the right questions.

Though, I am no supporter of war, yet I feel Pakistan (because it has given protection to the JeM Commander Masood Azhar) must be sent a very strong message: hamari sharafat ko hamari kamzori mat samjho (our civility should not be mistaken for our weakness).

The surgical strikes at Balakot sent a very strong message that meant, ‘we won’t take things lying down anymore’. The civilians of Pakistan must be respected, but the terrorists living on Pakistani soil must not be spared. The Balakot strike was called non-military, pre-emptive action. It was necessary, since we can’t be sitting ducks waiting for more terrorist attacks, emboldening elements of terror.

However, having said all this, I do feel the government should accept there was intelligence failure during the Pulwama attack. The state of Uttar Pradesh has lost many of its men in the attack. The government should take good care of the old parents of jawans, who have lost their lives.

Many people are saying that important issues were getting sidelined as the war cry was getting stronger. But I don’t believe it. I feel the government is trying to manage everything quite well. For instance, the authorities in Uttar Pradesh were successful in carrying out the Ardh Kumbh Mela at Prayagraj, without any untoward incident during the turmoil. As for the issue of unemployment, yes the situation is not so good, but we cannot expect miracles in just five years.

This would be my first time as a voter and I am pretty excited about it. I will definitely vote for BJP, especially because I feel Narendra Modi has given a big boost to self-sufficiency/self-employment. Now youngsters are venturing beyond just thinking for themselves or operating merely for profit, they now also think about how to generate employment for others. Yes, the government needs to improve itself on many counts, but we need to give them a second chance.

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Is Riyadh Brokering An India-Pakistan Peace Deal?

There has been heightened diplomatic activity between Saudi Arabia and India in recent weeks. Saudi Arabia’s state minister for Foreign Affairs Adel Al Jubeir was on a short visit to New Delhi, his second in less than a month. He was in the capital for just over four and a half hours during which he met Prime Minister Narendra Modi and held talks with external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj.

Officially, India described Jubeir’s visit as a follow-up meeting to the Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman’s trip to New Delhi in February, after the Pulwama terror attack. That trip of Salman to India and Pakistan was overshadowed by the rising tension which nearly aerial strikes and dogfight in the air between the two nuclear armed neighbours. Incidentally, during the OIC meet in the UAE, where Sushma Swaraj was a special invitee, Jubeir had a meeting with her; his third with the Indian foreign minister. Saudi Arabia’s energy minister was also in India over the weekend. Significantly, Jubeir was in Pakistan the week before his India’s visit.

These visits from Saudi officials within a short span of time are unprecedented and given rise to speculation about the Gulf nation is working at a peace deal between India and Pakistan. However, with Indian elections due to begin in April, that move will have to wait. While it is certain that India will never agree to a third party involvement, Saudi Arabia has enormous influence in Pakistan and can play a pivotal role in restraining the Pakistan Army from protecting and supporting anti-India terror outfits.

With Pakistan’s economy in dire need for funds, the Saudis have stepped in with emergency funding of $6 billion soon after Imran Khan took over as Prime Minister. Additionally, projects worth $20 billion were announced during the Crown Prince’s visit to Pakistan. All this gives the Saud kingdom an added leverage to influence the Pakistan Army, which dictates the India policy.

The Asian tour by the Crown Prince was seen as an exercise to salvage his profile, battered by allegations that he was responsible for the death of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi. MBS was once the toast of the western world for his attempts to transform Saudi Arabia into a moderate, modern Islamic kingdom.

The murder of Khashoggi has dented his image. MBS has been shunned by Western powers and his visit to Asia where nobody would question his role in Khashoggi episode would have been a relief. To his advantage, President Donald Trump regards Saudi Arabia as an important allay and MBS as a key element in his desire to bring Iran to heel. The Crown Prince is also close to Trump’s Presidential aide and son-in-law Jared Kushner.  

Saudi Arabia is said to have played an important, behind-the-scenes role in lowering tension between the two nuclear armed neighbours. US National Security Adviser John Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo were also involved in the exercise and did much of the heavy lifting, though both were in Vietnam for President Donald Trump’s second summit with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un. The Saudis worked from the forefront in tune with the US for reducing tension in the subcontinent.

Riyadh is walking a tight rope between India and Pakistan in the current crisis, trying to balance its traditional close friendship with Pakistan, with growing ties with India. During the Crown Prince’s visit to Pakistan, the joint statement issued at the end mentioned that nations should avoid “politicization of the UN listing regime”, in an obvious reference to New Delhi’s attempts at declaring the Jaish-e-Mohammed chief Masood Azhar a global terrorist. India is learnt to have conveyed to Saudis that Pakistan should take “irreversible, verifiable and credible steps against all terrorists without any discrimination” sought their pressure for dismantling Pakistan’s terror infrastructure.

India’s ties to Saudi Arabia and the Gulf countries have been in place since the time when dhows from the region had thriving trade with the coastal India. The spice trade flourished and Indian traders too sailed to the Gulf region. In modern times, India and Saudi Arabia were on the opposite side of the Cold War divide. Though India had diplomatic ties with Saudi Arabia soon after independence, the relationship was at best transactional.

The oil boom led to thousands of Indians working in the region and sending back much needed foreign exchange, but the political ties remained weak. In any conflict with Pakistan, the Saudis chose to back Pakistan, which sent detachments from Pakistan Army as guards for the Royal family. However, 9/11 as well as the Arab spring changed Saudi attitude. Eleven of the 9/11 terrorists were from the kingdom, besides the key plotter Osama Bin Laden, the leader of Al Qaeda. A nervous Saudi monarchy cracked down on terrorists. Jaswant Singh as foreign minister made a landmark visit to the Kingdom in October 2000. That was an ice breaker. 

The Royal visit of 2006 brought about a sea change in ties. King Abdullah became the first Saudi monarch in 51 years to visit India. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh went personally to receive the king at the airport. Since then, things have continuously brightened up. Narendra Modi visited Saudi Arabia in April 2016 and gave a further push to the relationship. India believes that ties with Saudi Arabia have developed beyond the traditional buyer and seller of oil to an all-embracing, comprehensive, strategic partnership. A strategic partnership council will be convened soon for efficient co ordination between the two countries.

Saudi Arabia has helped India get back terror suspects who often took refuge in the kingdom. In 2012, Riyadh sent back Zabiuddin Ansari alias Abu Jundal, who had taken a Pakistani passport to hide in Saudi Arabia. He is suspected to be involved in the 2008 Mumbai terror attack. Again, in December 2016, Abdul Salam involved in printing fake Indian currency notes, was deported from the Kingdom and handed over to Indian authorities. This was unthinkable before 9/11. Today, worried about the future of the monarchy, the kingdom is going all out to fight terror.

Both countries hope to expand ties to a solid economic one. The Crown Prince has assured investments up $100 billion in India. Riyadh is also committed to help building India’s strategic oil reserves and has spoken of investing in India’s infrastructure sector. Also, there has been buzz about investing in agriculture, getting farmers to grow for export exclusively to Saudi Arabia. Discussions are on.

The positive outcome in relations between India and Saudi Arabia is the growing strategic and economic co operation. However it would be foolish to assume that Saudi Arabia will not give more weightage to Pakistan. Riyadh and Islamabad have a thriving relationship. Former Pakistan army chief Raheel Sharif is the head of a Sunni military alliance, involved in Yemen. Every major Pakistani political party have close ties to Saudi Arabia’s ruling family. It is therefore left for Indian diplomats how they can turn the current India-Pakistan tension, which has led to increased Saudi interest in the region, to its advantage. How they leverage strategic and economic benefits out of Saudi Kingdom’s peace efforts will decide India’s interests and stature in Asia, as well as on the world map.

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#PulwamaRevenge – ‘Much To Answer’

WhatsApp was the medium through which I received the news of the Pulwama terror attack that martyred more than 40 of our CRPF jawans. Thank God for small mercies! I don’t think I would have been able to bear the visuals had I seen the news suddenly come up on TV. It was a ghastly sight and left a deep scar, much like the 2008 Mumbai attacks. The attack has brought up many baffling, unanswered questions.

The most important being why were 2,500 CRPF men travelling together? Weren’t they sitting ducks in a conflict zone like Kashmir? This has to be an inside job and the government must figure out how the intelligence failure occurred.

I must say I was happy about the surgical strike at the Jaish e Mohammed camps at Balakot, but not the war cry on TV news channels and social media platform thereafter. War is not the solution. The hot-headed ones in our country forget that our war is not against Pakistan, but that our war is against the scourge of terrorism. Similarly, the war cheerleaders in Pakistan also need to understand that terror has somehow become synonymous with Pakistan as far as it world image is concerned. Why make it worse by rattling sabers?

People who are busy warmongering seemed to have signed a death warrant of sorts. Wasn’t Wg Cdr Abhinandan’s bloodied face enough to show what a war really meant? Captain Nachiketa, Captain Saurabh Kalia and Fighter Pilot Ajay Ahuja’s stories too haven’t been forgotten.

Having said that, I quite like the BJP’s decisiveness and prompt and timely action in this matter. And no, I don’t think important issues are being sidelined in the name of fighting terrorism. Agar zinda hi nahi rahenge, to baki issues ka kya karenge? — We need to be alive in the first place to talk about other issues.

There might be lack of quality jobs, but that doesn’t mean that there are no jobs. At least the middle-class has quite a few options and people need to take their local leaders to task also for job creation. These local leaders then need to meet with their senior leaders to find solutions for real issues. The government does need to take care of the lower-income group though. The government is endowed with a Cabinet so that all sections/segments of society can function smoothly. And the Cabinet should be put to proper use. I voted for Narendra Modi in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. But this time around, I think I have matured and have developed a deeper understanding of issues. I am going to keep a sharp eye on the government and see whether it delivers on all fronts, only then will I decide whether to vote for BJP or not. The individual candidate representing the area I live in, his work/credentials, would also determine which way my vote goes.

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Balakot Attack: Time To End Bilateral Diplomacy

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.

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Pulwama: Pre-emptive strike, counter-strike and after

By Amitabh Mathur

Tension between India and Pakistan, following the Pulwama terror attack on February 14 and its aftermath, seems to be subsiding. Pakistan has begun some sort of crackdown on terrorist organisations; banning some and arresting a few elements related to the Jaish-e-Muhammad (JeM) leader Masood Azhar.

Time will tell whether what is being done is cosmetic and tactical, as on earlier occasions, or is it because of international pressure and Pakistan’s precarious economic situation has led to more lasting action.

Some basic questions surrounding the turn of events that triggered the face-off between the two neighbours have however got lost in the political squabble over electoral gain. To recap, Adil Ahmad Dar, an unemployed indoctrinated Kashmiri youth, posted a video of communal rant and deadly intent. On February 14 he carried out his threat by ramming his explosive-laden vehicle into a convoy of the CRPF Jawans near Pulwama- killing over 40.

The JeM, a proscribed terrorist organisation that operates with impunity, if not also immunity from Pakistan, claims responsibility for the carnage. Given the well-known ties between Pakistan’s intelligence agencies and JeM, the understandable assumption is that Rawalpindi has been complicit in the dastardly attack and Islamabad answerable for what has been conceived, planned and executed by Pakistan-based handlers of Dar.

That India would retaliate to this grave provocation, so close to the Lok Sabha polls, was inevitable. Having suffered Mumbai in 2008 without anything more than appeals to the international community no government now could merely beat its chest and wring its hands in helplessness- certainly not the one led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and advised by National Security Advisor Ajit Doval.

In a muscular message on February 26, Indian Air Force went deep into Pakistan, successfully bombed a JeM training camp in Balakot and returned safely.

Pakistan Army and Prime Minister Imran Khan too could not take the Indian action lying down. They simply could not afford a repeat of the Operation Geronimo, which took out Osama bin Laden from Abbottabad in Pakistan.

Islamabad responded, albeit feebly, on February 27 when its Air Force crept into Indian airspace and when challenged by air defence and interceptors, hurriedly dropped bombs in stray isolated areas before trying to return to safety.

In the ensuing dog fight, though a Pakistan aircraft was downed, dynamics of unfolding events changed as India lost a MIG 27 and its pilot was captured by Pakistan. Imperatives for New Delhi altered to bring the pilot back as the narrative of a successful muscular message to Pakistan would not have washed with images of the brave young Wing Commander in enemy hands.

This provided the international community with an opportunity to put pressure on Pakistan and defuse the rising tensions. Realising his limited options, Imran Khan quickly made the best of a difficult situation. Appearing magnanimous and conciliatory, he ordered unconditional release of the pilot, returning him on March 1 in civilian clothes quickly stitched by some Pindi tailor.

Pakistan has pleaded, with some support from China, that it has been implicated in the suicide bombing prematurely. Its apologists point to the country’s impoverished state which has led Khan to go around with a begging bowl to potential benefactors.

They argue such a provocation risking war would be most untimely and so Indian accusations are implausible. This has found no takers. The entire operation of spotting a disgruntled Kashmiri, targeting, cultivating, motivating, training him and arranging the explosives and vehicle is beyond the capability of indigenous militants.

It has the imprint of Pakistan’s spy agency Inter-Services Intelligence. Pressured by Indian security forces, especially in south Kashmir, sagging morale of the militants needed boosting. Confident of China’s support and smug over Washington’s desperation for Pakistan’s help to exit Afghanistan with its face intact, Rawalpindi thought it could get away with cheekiness once again. So when frequent convoys presented opportunity, the green signal would have been given.

Fall out of this episode has not been to Pakistan’s advantage. Its nuclear bluff has been called. It did not receive the kind of support it expected from China which asked it to cool things down.

The US accepted India’s right to defence implying Pakistan was the aggressor. It realised prolonging the standoff was not to its advantage. Yet, by retaliating to the Indian strike on Balakot, downing and taking an Indian pilot prisoner, Pakistan has been able to claim it stood up to India. It has once again brought the world’s focus on Kashmir. How much it will succumb to international pressure to crack down on Islamic terror groups that target India remains to be seen.

For India too it has been a mixed bag. Measures announced to punish Pakistan such as cancellation of the MFN status and withholding water in excess of the Indus Treaty are meaningless. Export of a mere $400 million is not about to cripple the security apparatus in Pakistan. It will only hurt businessmen who have a vested interest in trade with India. Nor does India have the infrastructure to store excess water or divert it to its arid areas.

All claims of isolating Pakistan too should be taken with the proverbial pinch of salt. While there was no condemnation of India’s foray into Pakistan and bombing the JEM camp, also some acknowledgement of its right to self-defence and pressure on Islamabad to cool down, no country is about to disturb normal relations with Pakistan- certainly not China, US or Saudi Arabia, who all have a vested interest in stable Pakistan. The Organisation of Islamic Cooperation may have overruled Pakistan’s objections in inviting Sushma Swaraj but that did not prevent it from crediting Imran for diffusing the faceoff and condemning “Indian terrorism” in Kashmir!

The important point is India has discarded its policy hitherto of appealing to the world and seeking the high moral ground whenever provoked by Pakistan. It has announced that it will take care of its own security and deal with its recalcitrant neighbour in the manner it chooses.

This will make some tanzeems fear reprisal the next time they indulge in trans-border terror. Yet, one strike across the border may placate domestic public opinion but it is unlikely to deter Pakistan and Islamic terror outfits operating from there. Brokers of the world order will have to be convinced India will not hesitate to raise the ante. Only that will impel them to pressure Pakistan into rolling the terror network down.

Lastly, there needs to be an acknowledgement that Pakistan is only taking advantage of our own cleavages in the Valley and such incidents will recur. Adil Dar, the perpetrator of the dastardly suicide bombing, was a Kashmiri youth who was indoctrinated by radical Islam.

The Youtube video he posted is disturbingly communal and reference to Ghazwa-e-Hind is particularly frightening. As noted by the keen observer Arshad Alam, with rampant unemployment in the valley, the alienated youth is caught between a coercive security apparatus on one hand and a very conservative interpretation of Islam on the other.

This leaves him very little space to indulge in any creative pursuit of his choice. There is disaster looming if he is not engaged. Hopefully, Pakistan, chastened if only temporarily, will provide the opportunity to do so which policymakers will not miss. 

(ANI)

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Indo-Pak Spat Will Sadly Be Milked For Political Gains

In the recent past, particularly the couple of days when tension was at its height between India and Pakistan, if you read only the media publications of those two countries you could have been a victim of schizophrenia, or of extreme bipolar disorder.

The claims and counter-claims about the airborne dogfights, the targets that were allegedly bombed, and the counter-attacks that followed, were so diametrically opposite each other that, if you were an unbiased observer, they would have left you perplexed.

India claimed that its air force had killed hundreds of terrorists believed to be behind mid-February’s suicide bombing in Kashmir in which scores of Indian security personnel died. Pakistan countered by saying its fighter planes had chased away the Indian aircraft and the only damage done was to woods and trees in a deserted area where there were no terrorist camps.

Then when Pakistan shot down an Indian aircraft and captured the pilot and tension began to escalate, the posturing of both sides changed. Pakistan took the high moral ground with its Prime Minister, Mr Imran Khan, offering to have a dialogue with India and releasing the pilot unconditionally. India, on its part, saw this as a huge victory and a cowering down by Pakistan. Meanwhile, a sort of proxy war seemed to be on in both, the social media as well as mainstream media publications, between the two countries. Nationalistic fervour was (and, perhaps, still is) at a peak, and shrill, hawkish screams abounded.

A war between two nuclear-weapon nations is least desirable, and the de-escalation of tensions after the release of the Indian pilot is welcome. Also, it is unlikely that India has, as it claims, decimated a huge terrorist camp in Pakistan. Yet, the problem remains: Kashmir continues, as it has been since Independence in 1947, to be a matter of serious dispute between the two neighbours; and Pakistan clearly is a haven for terror groups, including the dreaded Jaish-e-Mohammed, which repeatedly and regularly attacks and fans violence in the Kashmir Valley where Indian security forces have long maintained a near-military rule. If the recent face-off leads to a saner discussion between the two countries, particularly on the Kashmir issue, it could be a good beginning.

But does India want such a dialogue right now? As Prime Minister Narendra Modi, his party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), and its allies, head towards national elections, keeping the tension simmering between the two neighbours could actually help them. On 28 February while addressing a gathering of scientists in Delhi, Mr Modi remarked that that a “pilot project”, which was a “practice” just got over, and that the “real project” was yet to happen. It is easy to label Mr Modi’s comments as opportunistic in the context of the coming elections. History across the world shows that incumbent governments often benefit electorally when they demonstrate decisiveness or strength when tensions with an “enemy” state surface.

Yet, it would serve Indians well to remember the genesis of the current face-off: it began when terrorists from across the border launched a suicide attack that killed at least 40 Indian security personnel. That is the crux of the problem. The war against terrorists, who are ostensibly camped in, and perhaps encouraged by, Pakistan has to be a continuous effort that India cannot afford to relent on. But the electoral advantages that Mr Modi and his party might be able to reap from the current skirmish are real. We can expect his election campaign to keep referring to these: the threat of terrorism from Pakistani territory; the pilot (Wing Commander Abhinandan) who is now a hero in India; and a resolve to launch the not-so-cryptic “real project” that Mr Modi mentioned.

There is another disturbing aspect in the current scenario. India’s as well as Pakistan’s media, particularly the mainstream newspapers and TV news channels, have commonly fallen prey to jingoism whenever a conflict with Pakistan arises. You may want to call it healthy nationalism, perhaps. But in today’s scenario where social media plays a huge role in shaping people’s perceptions in both, India and Pakistan, this could have serious consequences. Fake news, doctored videos, and inflammatory comments, are being traded in a free-for-all manner. Many believe that these could heighten the tensions between the two nuclear weapon nations despite the de-escalation that followed the Indian pilot’s release.

The cynical viewpoint is that the ruling regime’s spin doctors could be leveraging all of this to help them in the coming elections. Signs of that, viz. Mr Modi’s and his colleagues’ recent statements, are already visible. Mr Modi came to power with an overwhelming electoral victory in 2014 but on the back of promises that now seem tall. He promised development, progress, and better days for Indians who placed their faith in him, but five years later, at the end of his term, much of those promises remain unfulfilled and the initial euphoria after he came to power turned out to be ephemeral. And, despite their bluster, the BJP and its allies have little to tom-tom about their achievements. In that context, the skirmish with Pakistan could be like a shot in the arm, providing campaigning fodder that could touch the hearts of many Indians.

On the other side too, Prime Minister Khan has been quick to grasp an opportunity to position himself as a mature statesman. His publicly stated willingness for a dialogue with India and the prompt release of the Indian pilot is likely to boost his popularity among his fellow countrymen. Last summer, his party, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) came to power when it won the largest number of seats in the national assembly but it didn’t manage to get a majority on its own. There were also widespread allegations about rigging by the PTI. Besides, in Pakistan, a hawkish military exerts overwhelming pressure and influence over political regimes and is commonly believed to encourage separatists and terror groups that operate in Kashmir. Yet, Mr Khan too has to resolve to fight the terrorism that breeds in his nation’s territory. A statesman-like image, which he has tried to create for himself recently, wouldn’t hurt.

Hyper-ventilating TV news anchors, and internet and social media trolls in both nations notwithstanding, the crucial need of the hour is not to fan tensions between Pakistan and India but to try and fix ways in which the long-standing dispute over Kashmir and the violent terrorism it has bred can be resolved. For that to happen the leaders of the two nations have to set aside their immediate political interests and agree to move towards non-violent and non-aggressive solutions. Will that happen? Or is it merely wishful thinking?

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