Balakot crisis: sifting myths from reality

World powers need to view the Balakot strike as an irresponsible act of Indian leadership

Zahid Ul Hassan February 27, 2023


India has a history of launching aggression against Pakistan on the pretext of false-flag operations for which incidents of Indian Parliament (Dec 2001), Bombay (Nov 2008) and Uri (Sept 2016) are the cases in point. In continuity of the same pattern, on 26 February 2019, shortly after midnight under overcast conditions, Indian Air Force (IAF) undertook a failed air strike inside Pakistan from across the Line of Control (LoC). It was a failed attempt, as IAF had to hurriedly release their munitions off-target and return, fearing Beyond Visual Range (BVR) missiles from Pakistan Air Force (PAF) Interceptor aircraft. Before even the dust could settle, Indian media went berserk and hysterical to claim that IAF had carried out “surgical strikes” inside Pakistan, targeting an alleged training camp and killed 300 inmates.

Conversely, to their dismay, dawn of the day revealed that IAF had dispensed expensive munitions by employing a barrage of high-tech 4th Generation platforms, duly supported by state-of-the-art force multipliers and ended up destroying a few pine trees and killing an innocent crow.

For the Indian strategists, it appeared to be the culminating point of post-Pulwama media hype, saber-rattling and political trumpeting and believed to have achieved numerous politico-military objectives, including, but not limited to, the following:

Gain political mileage by launching direct attack against Pakistan for electoral gains; look for space for Low Intensity Conflict (LIC) under the nuclear overhang; signal to her foreign apologists that their politico-military and economic investments in India were in line with India’s role as the Net Security Provider; and take undue advantage of India’s so-called geo-economic relevance and set a new normal.

Ironically, it was the first-ever direct military attack by a nuclear country against another nuclear country. It was a case of gross miscalculations about Pakistan’s capabilities and resolve to respond, wrongly conceived geo-political realities and in fact, an attempt to jeopardise strategic stability of the region, which was established subsequent to nuclearisation of both countries in May 1998.

Nevertheless, Pakistan took the Indian act of aggression as violation of the UN Charter with a right to respond at the time and place of her choosing. The events, unfolding the very next day, not only proved embarrassingly consequential for the Indian political and military leadership but also largely revealed Indian inability to act as the Regional Policemen.

On 27 February 2019, Pakistan responded with a “Quid-Pro-Quo Plus” strategy, re-established deterrence and restored strategic stability of the region. Here it seems imperative to quantitatively qualify the “Plus” factors which include:

Expressing Pakistan’s resolve to translate capabilities into a befitting response during broad daylight hours instead of darkness of mid-night; targeting military targets inside IIOJK and sparing them at the last moment, supported by corresponding videos of dispensed munitions; exhibiting capability to precisely engage multiple targets simultaneously through indigenously developed long range stand-off weapons; bombing targets while staying well inside own territory and not violating the LoC; displaying PAF’s synergetic Air Operations through a web of indigenously developed integrated decision-making tools and fully automated command and control centres; shooting down of two IAF’s frontline fighter aircraft while incurring no loss to PAF; presenting wreckage of the destroyed aircraft and captured IAF pilot to the international media; inducing paralysis and fog of war through force-multipliers that resulted in IAF shooting down their own helicopter; exercising strategic restraint through measured response while the possibilities to inflict more damage existed in air battle; and planning and conducting the entire range of PAF’s air operations with exemplary professionalism by the combat elements and force multipliers and not letting the fog of war to set-in.

Also, Pakistan exhibited remarkable moral ascendancy and set the captured Indian pilot free as a good will gesture and testimony to being a peace-loving country.

In essence, India felt deeply humiliated, exhibited irrationally-rational behaviour and tried to up the ante by jumping numerous rungs up the escalation ladder and started contemplating the unconventional measures. However, Pakistan’s resolve to once again respond with “Quid-Pro-Quo Plus” strategy and timely diplomatic intervention by the big powers — as mentioned by former US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in his book, Never Give an Inch: Fighting for the America I Love — successfully prevented the doomsday.

Another aspect of the Balakot crisis that merits due mention rests in information and perception management domains. Three distinct target audiences may be identified, in this regard — international, domestic and Pakistani.

On the international front, Indian strategy met a miserable failure and lost credibility on three accounts. First, the Indian claim of killing 300 persons at Balakot could not be verified by the independent media. Second, her claim of shooting down an F-16 of PAF by Wg Cdr Abhinandan was refuted by General Dynamic’s by issuing an official count of Pakistan’s inventory. This Indian claim was also nullified when Pakistan presented wreckage of the downed Mig-21 to the world that showed all four air-to-air missiles intact with the fateful aircraft.

Nevertheless, for her domestic audience, in order to give credence to the false claims, India had to confer Vir Chakra, the second highest Indian Gallantry award, on Wg Cdr Abhinandan — something that became a laughing stock within India and beyond.

On Pakistan’s front, the Indian move proved counterproductive as not only all decisions were taken with collective wisdom by the entire leadership but it also gelled the entire nation into one entity that resolutely stood behind their armed forces.

To conclude, it can be summarised that it was a failed Indian attempt to disturb strategic stability of the region as a result of misperceptions and miscalculations about Pakistan’s capabilities and resolve and misadventure on the part of the Indian leadership. The world community needs to review its geo-economic preferences in favour of geo-political realities and stop viewing India through the lens of trade destination. It is with this contextual background that the world powers need to view the Balakot strike as an irresponsible act of Indian leadership which could have disastrous consequences for the South Asian region and for the world.

Published in The Express Tribune, February 27th, 2023.

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