The successful strike made by a dozen Mirage 2000 jets of the Indian Air Force on Feb 26 to take out the biggest training camp of Jaish-e-Mohammed at Balakot in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province of Pakistan, in just about ten days after the terror attack on the CRPF at Pulwama, speaks as much of the decisiveness of the Modi regime on the national security front as of all that obviously went into that action by way of defence preparedness, functional consolidation of India’s intelligence set-up and a comprehensive diplomatic reach out to the world by our Prime Minister himself on the issue of Pakistan-sponsored terror.
Indian jets also pounded the terrorist launch pads at Muzaffarabad and Chakothi in POK. In all of this, the role of the National Security Advisor, Ajit Doval, in the formulation of responses at the level of both policy and tactics and also overseeing the execution of a brilliant operation of the IAF swiftly completed on a note of complete surprise for the adversary, was noteworthy. India has retained the moral high ground in going after a set of dangerous terrorists condemned even by the UN Security Council. Pakistan had consistently projected them as ‘non- state’ actors on its soil but had remained totally complicit with them for reasons known to the entire world. The event gives a new turn to India-Pakistan relations leaving little scope for India to shift from its firm stand against cross-border terrorism.
India’s Foreign Secretary in a media briefing disclosed that credible intelligence was received that JeM was training fidayeen for attempting further suicide terror attacks in various parts of India and that, in the face of this imminent danger, a preemptive strike had become absolutely necessary. He made it clear that the action at Balakot was a ‘preemptive non- military strike targeting militants and not the people or the State of Pakistan’. The forthright statement of India has helped to give the right message to the world about India’s bona fide in responding to a grave threat to its national security. The note of understanding struck by major powers like the US, UK, France, Australia, Russia and even China on the Balakot operation vindicates India’s policy against terrorism. This is a marked success of our military and diplomatic moves.
For decades now, Pakistan’s deep state had been unabashedly pursing a ‘proxy war’ against India in the name of Kashmir using faith-based terrorism to avenge the ignominious defeat of 1972 it had suffered at the hands of India in the Bangladesh war. It first instigated militant separatism in Kashmir — through the slogans of Plebiscite and Azadi and also sponsored the armed ‘Khalistan’ movement in Punjab but could not derail the overpowering democratic processes there. It was in the Nineties that, following the success of anti-Soviet armed campaign in Afghanistan for which Pakistan was given all the credit by the US-led West, the Pak army-ISI combine planned to replicate the Afghan Jehad in Kashmir by sending in Mujahideen from across the Valley and subduing the Kashmiris to the call of Jehad through its agents and acolytes. Jamaat-e-Islami outfits like Hizbul Mujahideen and Dukhtarane Millat were made to take orders from the Pak-based Lashkar-e-Toiba chief Maulana Hafiz Sayeed. The Hurriyat totally converted into a Pak proxy. The network of Pak agents within the administration and outside, including those who took shelter under the umbrella of politics was constantly expanded to create an atmosphere of alienation and public unrest.
Also, Maulana Masood Azhar’s Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM), which was an old collaborator of Al Qaeda-Taliban combine — it was a constituent along with Taliban of the first set of Mujahideen sent to the valley under the label of Harkatul Ansar way back in 1993 — was utilised for raising fidayeen or suicide bombers. These were lately being trained for using car bombs. What is more disconcerting is that the Balakot training camp was the venue for raising Border Action Teams comprising of both Jaish militants and army soldiers. The attack on the CRPF convoy at Pulwama was the doing of a Jaish Fidayeen who used a car bomb with over 60 kg of RDX mix. The act owned by the Pak-based JeM was a manifestation of the new level of escalation of terror caused by the Pak army after it had discovered that stone pelting and grenade lobbing on security camps by its agents in Kashmir were bringing it diminishing returns.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, unlike his predecessors, took a hard line towards Pakistan once he discovered — after extending the hand of friendship to then Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif — that in Pakistan the civilian government was a mere fig leaf for its army and that the Pak army-ISI combine was determined to use terrorism as the instrument of state policy to get hold of Kashmir. The terror attack on Pathankot air base in January 2016 led to the declaration of Modi government that ‘terror and talks could not go together’ — a policy that has been proved right by the course of developments. The punitive surgical strike on terror launch pads carried out by Indian troops across the LOC within days of Uri attack the same year was in glaring contrast to the supine response of the government of the day to the deadly LeT sponsored Mumbai attack of 2008- 26/11 being rightly described as India’s 9/11.
For lack of understanding of the distinction between Islamic radicals of Al Qaeda-Taliban axis who took on the US and the India-specific outfits nurtured by Pak ISI as instruments of cross border terrorism against this country the then government first committed a foreign policy blunder of granting a ‘shared victimhood’ to Pakistan in regard to terrorism, at the Havana summit and then went on to spinelessly accept the line of John Kerry — visiting Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee — that 26/11 was solely the doing of ‘non state’ actors of Pakistan. In the period that followed, the Pakistan army worked with the presumption that it could keep up its proxy offensive against India without any fear of retribution. It is the Modi government that got President Donald Trump to abandon the artificial construct of a distinction between ‘good terrorists’ and ‘bad terrorists’, call the bluff of Pakistan on its role in the ‘war on terror’ that was a combat against Islamic radicals and clearly direct Pakistan to stop providing safe havens to terrorists across the Islamic spectrum. The government has unflinchingly stuck to the policy of ‘talks and terror do not go together’ and Indians are totally behind the government on this — the charge of ‘politicisation’ raised by peaceniks and sections of the opposition is not cutting much ice.
In the current geo-political context, Pakistan is left with no option but to sue for peace — its sabre rattling by way of sending some F-16s to unsuccessfully attempt to bomb a military establishment on our side of LOC a day after the Balakot strike, has not taken it anywhere. An Indian pilot intercepting the enemy plane fell in Pak hands. Pakistan was compelled to declare his release after India rightly warned it that any ill-treatment of the pilot would be considered a war provocation. Since India’s Pak policy revolves round the issue of Pakistan effectively giving up on cross-border terrorism, India should legitimately demand handing over of Maulana Hafiz Sayeed and Maulana Masood Azhar for trial in 26/11 and Pulwama attack respectively as a condition for talks. Pakistan should not be permitted to exploit its proximity to Saudi Arabia and UAE in the OIC nor should it be allowed to manoeuvre the support of Russia and China on the Afghan table. Meanwhile, India’s war machine should remain in full swing to take on any military adventure of Pakistan — the threat of nuclear flash point does not work for Pakistan any more. Pakistan, however,is likely to step up its aggressiveness in Kashmir and it would be quite in order for India to take to an approach of ‘offence is the best defence’ along the LOC.
(D.C. Pathak is a former Director Intelligence Bureau)