Three years of Balakot airstrike: Don’t settle for terror
On February 26, 2019, 12 Mirage 2000 fighter jets took off from India and crossed the border to carry out a punitive strike on a Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) facility in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa region of Pakistan. Dubbed Operation Bandar, the attack was carried out in retaliation for the Pulwama terror attack which killed 40 soldiers from the Central Reserve Police Force. “During an intelligence led operation in the early hours of today, India struck the biggest JeM training camp at Balakot. trainers, senior commanders and groups of jihadists who were being trained for fiddayin action have been eliminated,” the foreign ministry said.
The Balakot strike was the first time India had carried out a bold maneuver, justifying it as a non-military preventive action in the face of imminent danger. Credible intelligence, India said, indicated that more fidayeen attacks were planned. The intention of the Indian government has been conveyed unequivocally to Pakistan and the world that it will no longer resort to dialogue with a nation that has repeatedly failed to deliver on its promises made in 2004 that Pakistan would not allow its territory for terrorism against India.
The world was in favor of India. Pakistan has tried to deny the damage, saying the attacks only destroyed a few trees and there was no loss of life. This plausible deniability, an oft-repeated tactic by Pakistan’s inter-agency public relations, has once again come to light, as it did during the Kargil intrusion, initially blamed on militants and fighters of the freedom of Kashmir.
The jury is still out on the casualty scale in Balakot, but enough water has flowed under the bridge since then.
Pakistan is reeling from economic pressures with repeated bailout requests from the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank; the nation continues to double its debt every five years. Inflation levels are at an all-time high, with a huge budget deficit. This precarious financial situation will not fail to fuel disillusionment with the current government, which came to power with the promise of a “Naya Pakistan”. Meanwhile, Pakistan’s honeymoon with the Taliban, which came to power in Afghanistan after the US exit, is worsening day by day, with reports of repeated clashes along the Durand Line. The illegal sale of arms seized from departing US forces has given a new impetus to this trade, which will only fuel further unrest in the region.
For China, whose much-vaunted “higher than the mountains and deeper than the seas” bond with Pakistan continues to thrive, the US withdrawal from Afghanistan poses its own challenges. China must remain vigilant against the spread of terror and militancy with the growing influence of the TIP and TTP coupled with Uyghur unrest in the Xinjiang region. This poses significant risks for Beijing’s investments in the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. Moreover, China’s strategic alliance with Pakistan will be tested in the near future, with the perilous situation in the neighborhood after the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan and disillusionment within Pakistan. in the face of its worsening economic crisis.
Investments in relationships and policies, when made with vested and parochial interests, will never pay dividends. Pakistan’s policy of fomenting terrorism through its soil, China’s alliance with Pakistan to protect itself from India, Pakistan’s support for the Taliban to provide strategic depth, and the US partnership with Pakistan to exerting influence over Afghanistan have all ensured that the chickens have finally returned home to their roost.
After the Balakot strike, there was a noticeable downward trend in infiltrations across the border and terrorist attacks/incidents. India’s diplomatic clout and military capability with the induction of Rafale fighter jets with specialized precision weapons has only increased since then.
The last Fire Power Display (FPD), carried out by the Indian Air Force, took place two days after the Pulwama attack. This year’s PFD takes place on March 7.
The lull in terrorist attacks should not make us complacent. No. The powder must be kept dry and innovative options must be considered and debated, because cold, calculated and decisive actions, incorporating surprise and deception, will pay dividends and ensure that national security is not compromised.
Is the monkey of cross-border terrorism finally on India’s back? Only time will tell.
Anil Golani is Additional Managing Director, Center for Air Power Studies, New Delhi
Opinions expressed are personal