When India successfully conducted night airstrikes deep into Pakistan on 26th February 2019 to demolish a major training facility of the Pak-based terror outfit Jaish-e-Muhammad (JeM) at Balakot in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province of Pakistan as also two terrorist camps in the POK (Pak Occupied Kashmir) at Muzaffarabad and Chakhoti, respectively, Pakistan was stunned by this unexpected retaliation of Pulwama attack.
Pakistan expected India to exercise strategic restraint as it has been exhibiting in the past, despite being subjected to extremely provocative cross-border terrorist activities by Pakistan. Pakistan was ardently following ‘Death by thousand cuts’ as an instrument of state policy. The attacks carried out by IAF Mirage 2000 aircraft using the state of art precision-guided munitions (PGMs) and AGM-142 (Popeye-2) missiles left Pakistan with a feeling of shock and awe.
Surgical Strike 2.0
First ‘Surgical Strike’ was restricted to a short distance of the LoC. In the ‘Surgical Strike-II’, India demonstrated annihilating any doubt that it would not think twice before conducting terror operations even deep inside, including Pakistan’s sovereign territory.
Aerial strikes against a nuclear-armed adversary were indeed unprecedented. Pre-emptive self-defence has hitherto been exclusive prerogative of the Western powers. The spectacular airstrikes by India were not a mere razzmatazz but a symbolic assertion of its right to exercise pre-emptive self-defence.
Delusion of Pak that its army and intelligence services could continue to wage a low-cost proxy war against Indian military targets in Kashmir had been broken. Delhi also conveyed in no uncertain terms to Islamabad that India can and will impinge unpredictable damage as a consequence to its state-sponsored terror attacks against India.
Lacklustre Response by Pakistan
On 27thFebruary 2019, Pakistan launched an air attack into Indian Territory which nonetheless was effectively thwarted by Indian Air Force. During the skirmish both sides lost an aircraft each, a Mig-21 Bison (Bis upgrade) and an F-16. Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman who was flying Mig-21 reported the radar lock on an enemy aircraft, and fired an R-73 Russian origin missile just as he himself was hit.
Pakistani social media reported another aircraft downed with two pilots parachuting. Later the report was found to be a false propaganda. The debris of an AMRAAM missile was recovered on the Indian side. It was clear that this advanced missile made by Raytheon company belonged to an F-16, which was officially sold to the Pakistan Air Force (PAF).
India: No More a Soft State
Balakot surgical air strike was perhaps a greater political gamble than a military one. While success would deliver political dividend, a failure would have translated into a catastrophe for the ruling party of India. Considering the stakes involved the decision to go for air strikes was extremely audacious. Pakistan in an adrenalin rush, had already publicly announced that there would be response to any Indian military action.
However, keeping in view its precarious economic situation, Pakistan probably did not want any escalation but desperately needed a face saver. A demonstration of a shallow air strike without causing damage to the target could meet the desired objectives if supported by adequate information warfare. This operation was anything but a Swift Retort.
The F-16 charade was enacted to build the perception that Pakistan defence establishment is up and about to thwart any Indian military overtures. Aftermath of these events saw a de-escalation which was fait-accompli under the international pressure. Pulwama and Balakot displayed a paradigm shift in India’s ability to deliver responses under such situation.
Special operations conducted by Army across the LoC (Line of Control) in PoK post Uri terrorist attack was the first time India displayed its resolve of taking the fight to the enemy camp and carrying out punitive attacks without hesitation.
A day after the IAF carried out aerial strikes on terrorist camp, PAF did show some aerial aggressiveness by taking more than 20 aircraft in the air. However, to call it a Swift Retort by the PAF Chief Marshal Mujahid Anwar Khan may not be prudent as these aircraft failed to hit any of the targets in Indian Territory.
Although, DG ISPR, in a press brief claimed that PAF planes did not hit the targets purposely to prevent any further escalation. However, Chinese JF-17 firing 11 H-4 1,000 kg bombs from ranges of around 50 km inside their territory and purposely missing the targets sounds unbelievable.
Considering all the factors and holistically analyzing the sequence of events and results on ground, the said operation can appropriately be rechristened as:
“Lethargic and Ineffective Response”
17 Jul 19/Wednesday Written by Naphisa