The air strikes on Pakistan, coming before general elections, boosts PM Narendra Modi, who was seen under pressure to act after the Pulwama attack. (AP)
The air strikes on Pakistan, coming before general elections, boosts PM Narendra Modi, who was seen under pressure to act after the Pulwama attack. (AP)

Pulwama Payback resets India's Pakistan Playbook

  • India describes the Balakot air strike as 'non-military pre-emptive strike', seemingly making a transition from a defensive posture to offence
  • Pakistan’s options after the IAF air strikes are now limited to either escalating tensions or hitting India with more terrorist strikes

New Delhi: In a pre-dawn blitz, Indian Air Force's (IAF's) fighter jets bombed Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) terrorist camps inside Pakistan as well as in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (PoK), showing India’s will to respond decisively to terrorism emanating from its western neighbour and signalling a clear change in the rules of its engagement with Islamabad.

The sorties unveiled a new Indian playbook to deal with Pakistan and underlined New Delhi’s position that talks and terrorism cannot go together.

Some news reports said around 300 terrorists were killed in the IAF air strike. Mint could not independently verify the claim.

India described its action as a “non-military pre-emptive strike" against JeM, a UN-proscribed terrorist group, seemingly making a transition from a defensive posture to offence.

The bombing was carried out by five Indian Air Force Mirage 2000 fighter jets that flew from the Ambala airbase in Punjab, and were supported by mid-air refuelling aircraft. Two of the terror camps were in Chakothi and Muzaffarabad in PoK. The third, inside Pakistan’s international border, was in Balakot, situated in thickly forested mountains on the banks of the Kunhar river in the tribal Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. The Balakot air strike illustrated a new will on the part of India to shed its reservations and target terrorist camps wherever they may be.

(Mint)

The Indian fighter jets crossed into Pakistani territory despite a large number of radars deployed by Pakistan on its eastern border to thwart any such Indian reprisal.

The IAF air strike was “a chilling message for Pakistan’s terrorism sponsors: the ISI (Inter Services Intelligence) headquarters in Islamabad and GHQ (general headquarters) in Rawalpindi are much closer than Balakot to the Ambala airbase, from where Indian warplanes carried out the air strikes with impunity," said Brahma Chellaney, a strategic analyst with the think tank, Centre for Policy Research in New Delhi.

The Indian action was in retaliation to the 14 February Pulwama terror attack in which at least 40 Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel were killed. JeM claimed responsibility for the attack, the worst since the Kashmiri insurgency began in 1989.

Pakistan’s options after the IAF air strikes are now limited to either escalating tensions or hitting India with more terrorist strikes. On Tuesday evening, heavy shelling was reported along the India-Pakistan border.

Earlier in the day, Pakistan foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, after chairing an emergency meeting at the Pakistan foreign office, seemed to suggest an escalation could be on the cards. “India has violated the Line of Control and committed grave aggression against Pakistan. We reserve the right of a suitable response and right of self defence," The Express Tribune newspaper of Pakistan said, citing Qureshi.

Domestically, the Indian action, coming before general elections, boosts Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who was seen under pressure to act given India’s stated position that talks and terrorism can’t go together. The IAF air strikes seemed to unite the opposition behind the government, albeit temporarily. An all-party meeting in New Delhi was briefed by external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj.

New Delhi had also prepared the international community for the strike, with key partners such as the US kept in the loop. Swaraj had a telephone conversation with US secretary of state Mike Pompeo before Tuesday’s strike. US national security adviser John Bolton had in a telephone conversation with his Indian counterpart, Ajit Doval, on 16 February agreed on India’s right to self defence in the wake of the Pulwama attack.

In his briefing to foreign diplomats based in New Delhi, foreign secretary Vijay Gokhale acknowledged only the Balakot air strike, which he said was based on “credible intelligence" that JeM was planning another suicide attack in India. “In the face of imminent danger, a pre-emptive strike became absolutely necessary."

The Balakot air strike took out “the biggest training camp" of a UN-proscribed terrorist group, he said, adding that “this facility at Balakot was headed by Maulana Yousuf Azhar, brother-in-law of Masood Azhar", who heads JeM.

He also stressed that the Balakot air strike was against a “non-military target", that is, not against a Pakistani military asset. It was against a terrorist training camp and in “self defence" given that India had credible information that JeM was planning attacks against India.

China’s ambassador to India Luo Zhaohui was one of those briefed by New Delhi. “India and Pakistan are both important countries. Both parties should remain restrained and do more to improve bilateral relations," said Lu Kang, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman.

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