Indian fighters hit terrorist camps in Pakistan, crossed LoC first time after 1971 war

Ritu Jha-

 

Retaliating to the suicide attack on a Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) convoy in Pulwama, Jammu and Kashmir, on February 14 that killed 40 troopers, the Indian Air Force attacked terrorists’ camps based in Pakistan on February 26.

The camps were located at Balakot, about 195 km from Islamabad and over 40 km from Muzaffarabad, in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. The attack was launched by 12 Mirage fighters, which dropped 1,000-kilogram (2,205-pound) bombs.

Pakistan claimed that Indian Air Force (IAF) fighter jets crossed the Line of Control (LoC) and returned after Pakistan Air Force (PAF) scrambled war planes.

However, India Foreign Secretary Vijay K Gokhale told the media that IAF jets hit the biggest training camp of the Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) group in Pakistan that had claimed credit for the attack, eliminating a large number of terrorists and their trainers. He told the media that the “non-military pre-emptive action was specifically targeted at the terrorist camp” located on a hilltop far from civilian areas.

The Pulwama attack has prompted a spike in tensions between the two nuclear-armed neighbors.

“My first reaction was of course of surprise since no Indian government has ever ordered an air strike across the international border since the 1971 Bangladesh war,” security expert Yogesh Joshi told indica. Joshi is MacArthur nuclear security postdoctoral fellow at the Center for International Security and Cooperation, Stanford University.

“Of course, cross-LoC raids have been a common feature of Indo-Pakistani military activity across the LoC but a decision of this magnitude is a game changer in couple of ways,” Joshi said.

He said that irrespective of the damage done to terrorist hideouts and camps operating deep inside the Pakistani territory, this is a clear indication of a newfound political will on the part of the Indian state to use military force, pointing out that even after the Mumbai attacks, the then UPA government had desisted from using the air force.

The air chief at that time, ACM Fali Major, later had said that while the IAF had provided the government with options, there was no political will, Joshi said. Second, it also implies that India is slowly emerging from the self-imposed deterrence it relied on after the 1998 nuclear tests in South Asia.

It seems that the Indian state is now coming around to the idea that it can inflict costs on Pakistan for its continuous support to cross-border terrorism without necessarily getting hamstrung by the idea that any military action would eventually lead to all out nuclear war.

When asked now Pakistan would retaliate, and both are nuclear-loaded country, and Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi  has said that India has conducted a violation of the Line of Control and Pakistan reserves the right to an appropriate response: Joshi said, “Of course, if Pakistan escalates, we are staring at a dangerous set of events unfolding in South Asia in the near future.”

“The point now is calibrating this escalation, provide Pakistan a face-saving gesture and move away from escalatory ladder,” Joshi said. “India has communicated its resolve and grit to the Pakistani state. The need now is to let the Pakistani army absorb this lesson in silence. India should desist from any unnecessary chest thumping.”

Riaz Khan, Former Foreign Secretary, Pakistan during a conference, “The Past and Future of South Asian Crises”, held last January at Stimson Center, in Washington DC had openly shared his views on what can we(Pakistan) learn from past experiences? or wars.

He said that the first point in this regard is that Kashmir lies at the heart of the 70 years of conflict and tension in Pakistan-India relations if Kashmir were resolved perhaps the trajectory of this relationship could have been very different. Pakistan would have had no motivation to respond and pursue a nuclear option.

This is what I believe if Kashmir were resolved. Perhaps the two countries could have lived together, as the founder of Pakistan Muhammad Ali Jinnah had once envisioned, like the United States and Canada.

Instead however we have had three wars over the dispute. Even now there is a simmering agitation in the valley. Only a couple of months back, you may have seen a statement by former Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh and the former Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah expressing concern over Kashmiri alienation, which they say has to be addressed.

Shyam Saran, Former Foreign Secretary, India foreign secretaries during the period 2004 to 2006, also one of the speakers at the conference said the problem is that every time perhaps an effort is made on the Indian side to reach out, at the leadership level, there are perhaps forces at work who make certain that the positive impact of the summit is appreciated. So, even Mr. Modi, who’s regarded as somewhat tough leader, he took a huge political gamble by going to Lahore and visiting Sharif, and there was an expectation that this would lead to a better relationship.

But as we saw, like also in the past, the initiative was again sort of followed by some major cross-border terrorist attacks, and that could pay to whatever positive impact there would have been from such summit meetings. If you remember the same thing happened with Atal Bihari Vajpayee and his famous bus trip to Lahore and, subsequently, the Kargil incident which took place.

Gokhale told media after the strike on Tuesday that India had been providing Islamabad with the “location of terrorist training camps in Pakistan and Pakistan-occupied Jammu and Kashmir” from time to time. But Pakistan keeps denying their existence.

Gokhale said that such “massive training facilities capable of training hundreds of jihadis could not have functioned without the knowledge of Pakistani authorities…” but Pakistan has taken no concrete action to dismantle the infrastructure of terrorism on its soil.

According to IANS, following the attack the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi hosted the meeting attended by Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, Defense Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, National Security Adviser (NSA) Ajit Doval and other government officials.

The CCS meeting comes after Asif Ghafoor, the director-general of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) confirmed in a tweet early Tuesday that the IAF planes dropped the payload near Balakot in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa but said they left in haste as the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) scrambled its fighters.

All IAF bases were on high alert anticipating a reaction from Pakistan to the Indian fighter jets attack. Sources said that bases along the borders and inside are prepared for any eventuality, with air defense systems being activated to target any intruder along the international border and the LoC.

Airborne radars have been keeping a close vigil on the activities inside Pakistan, the sources added.

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