Pulwama happened and even a moron could connect two dots and decide that its roots lay in India’s disastrous policy in Kashmir. PM Modi (no doubt assisted by his National Security Adviser) jumped the gun, mounted his bandwagon and made the hare-brained unilateral determination (without an investigation) that Pakistan was behind the attack. He also committed India to retaliation closing the door to any deniable response. The die was well and truly cast. The world ignored the mounting evidence of linkage behind the Pulwama and Zahedan attacks and the conclusion that India was the sole beneficiary of the two linked attacks.
India’s retaliation (that is now being seen as a damp squib) came in the form of a pre-dawn attack by Mirage 2000 aircraft loaded with bombs from India’s Avantipura base. The bomb load clearly indicates the intention to bomb an area target and in this case it turned out to be an open area near Village Jabba close to Balakot in Pakistan’s KPK province. Did the pilots have wrong coordinates or was an area chosen, rather than a specific target, to lessen the impact of the attack hoping that Pakistan would not respond and India’s baying Hindu population and its frenzied media would be satisfied. The problem is that India chose a target area outside the disputed Kashmir area well within Pakistan. Pakistan’s interceptors responded and their rapid response has led to the perception that the Indian pilots exited hastily jettisoning their bombs. What was meant to be a retaliation to Pulwama turned out to be a disaster and within the Indian Armed Forces the feeling grew that they had been used for political purposes with no strategic or even tactical goal assigned. The only success for India was that it did not lose a Mirage in the attack because its pilots hightailed it out quickly. Subsequent press conferences and briefings by Indian officials have been confusing but the people and the media celebrated without restraint till reality began to kick in.
India’s second intrusion into Pakistani airspace came today with MIG 21 aircraft. It came in response to Pakistan’s carefully calibrated standoff early morning air attacks on six infrastructure targets in IOK— carefully selected to avoid human casualties. Pakistan Air Force (no doubt flying CAP-Combat Air Patrol Missions) swooped on the MIG 21 aircraft and shot down both aircraft. One fell on the Pakistan side of the LOC and Pakistan claims three pilots captured. The other aircraft fell in IOK and apparently the pilot was killed. India had perhaps decided to make cross border air intrusions and attacks a regular feature of its coercive policy on the LOC—that was so far restricted to cease fire violations on the ground. Pakistan’s measured response has put paid to any such policy and also signaled its competence and capacity as well its desire not to escalate to war. The DGISPR made this clear in his briefing.
What India does after this incident is unclear but another facet of the situation is the post- Pulwama crackdown in IOK that is inflicting unbelievable atrocities on the Kashmiris presaging a major upheaval in the valley. India’s economic attraction may have shut the world’s eyes to the gross human rights violations by India but the escalation of state sponsored terror in IOK and subsequent irresponsible actions could lead to a conflict that in the Pakistani PM’s words ‘no one could predict how it would end”.
Pakistan has rightly stated that all it is doing is defending. After the Balakot bomb run Pakistan had reserved the right to respond at a time and place of its choosing. And it responded responsibly through carefully calibrated attacks from within its territory and within IOK. Now with Indian aggression fully exposed and its policy in tatters Pakistan does not have to respond further and it can keep its right to respond reserved for the time being. The Indians have had their celebration and just as they were basking in the after-glow they have been given a dose of reality. It is time for introspection in India. It is time for diplomacy to kick in so that madness does not take over. Rein in the media. Educate public opinion. Listen to the voices advocating sanity. It is easy to plunge into the abyss but you cannot climb back out. Pakistan has again offered unconditional dialogue to defuse the situation and set the scene for regional stability. The world needs to support Pakistan especially as it moves to eradicate militancy from its soil in its own interest.