KARACHI: The deteriorating ties between Islamabad and New Delhi took a tumultuous turn early Tuesday when the Indian Air Force (IAF) violated the Line of Control (LoC).
Facing timely and effective response from Pakistan Air Force (PAF), the IAF aircraft released their payload in haste while escaping, said Director-General Inter-Services Public Relations Major General Asif Ghafoor. The payload, released by IAF Mirage 2000, fell near Balakot.
Initially, India’s defence ministry denied knowledge of the incident. “I have no information,” Reuters quoted an Indian defence ministry spokesperson.
In the wake of the confusion surrounding the incident, The Express Tribune reached to defence analysts to make sense of the prevailing situation.
Shortly after, Indian Foreign Secretary Vijay Ghokhale read out a statement regarding the LoC incident and claimed IAF had carried out airstrikes.
Chairman for Center for Research and Security Studies Imtiaz Gul said the veracity of the Indian claims was difficult to ascertain as they issued no visual evidence. He also questioned Ghokhale’s refusal to take questions in the press conference.
Brigadier (retd) Asad Munir echoed the same opinion. “The IAF should have footage from the aircraft that dropped the bombs – they should release the visuals to back their claim.”
Munir pointed out that even the Indian media was using images shared by ISPR. “Why did their foreign secretary not entertain questions in the press conference? Even the Indian side is confused about the location of the ‘attack’.”
Former director of ‘Sector for Air Power Studies’ Air Commodore Jamal Hussain stressed that if the IAF used Mirage 2000s then they intended to attack. “Mirage 2000 is not used to check response time. They certainly intended to carry out a surgical strike.”
Gul added that the area IAF claims to have targeted was difficult to distinguish. “A Mirage 2000 travels at around 1,680 miles/hour – at this speed, the fighter jet can easily cross into another country’s airspace.”
Observing that the images from the site issued by the ISPR did not show remnants of an explosion, Hussain suggested the possibility that the bomb may have ‘malfunctioned’ or the IAF pilot “may have forgotten to turn off the safety switch before unloading it.”
He maintained that both Pakistan and India have strong air defence. “The two sides are able to carry out swift surprise air raids within 30 kilometres of the border without being intercepted by the adversary’s fighters that are on ground alert,” he said.
“The misconception about immediate response has to be demystified. A fighter jet flies at the speed of 1000s of kilometres per hour – it can reach the target area within minutes. The response time for a fighter jet to reach incursion site varies from at least five to 10 minutes.”
“It is impossible to counter the attack, however, we can retaliate,” he explained. “Be it Pakistan, India or even the United States – no country can have fighter aircraft on watch 24/7. It is too costly.”
As India faces doubts over the accuracy of its claims due to the failure of credible evidence, Gul suggested Pakistan armed forces take the initiative by allowing foreign and local media access to the site.
“A tour of the site to inspect the damage caused and the debris left behind by the IAF can help dismiss the Indian narrative.”
He added the ISPR should arrange a visit to the area similar to the one they had organised after the Uri attack. “We should call their [India’s] bluff by allowing media access.”
Munir asserted that the ‘surgical strike’ was staged by the Indian government for “local consumption ahead of the upcoming polls.”
It may be mentioned here that the right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is looking to secure another term in the general elections.
Hussain believes the Narendra Modi-led government needed theatrics to placate the rising calls for vengeance. “By telling the people that the Pulwama attack has been avenged, the BJP has cemented its position. Modi needed an escape route; he found one in a surgical strike.”
“The Pulwama attack was carried out by Kashmiris – even their army general admitted that the material used in the bomb was local,” said Munir.
The retired army official added that the JeM narrative pushed by India is “old intelligence”. He stressed that there were no organised JeM trainee camps.
“There may be certain elements affiliated with the JeM. In the 2000s, the JeM was banished, it moved to North Waziristan and began an onslaught against the army. Masood Azhar planned an attack on former army general Pervez Musharraf as well.”
Hussain, however, warned against any aggressive reaction from Pakistan. “We should maintain our stance – present facts about the LoC violation before the international community. At the same time, we should give peace a chance.”
He said now that the Indian government has managed to placate its masses, they will also be open to dialogue.
Speaking to The Express Tribune, Deputy Director of the Asia Program Michael Kugelman said it was a tense moment but neither sides would want the situation to escalate. “We can expect a war of words and some tough talk, but beyond that, I imagine things will soon settle.”
“At this point, the big question is how Pakistan responds,” he said. “What it does, if anything, in response to India’s claimed attack will go a long way toward determining just how deep tensions could become.”