Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan called for peace and invited India to engage in dialogue amid escalating tension since the Pulwama attack. Meanwhile, the Prime Minister met with his top intel and military officials to chart out the next course of action. This, after what’s being dubbed ‘Surgical Strike 2.0’ was carried out signaling significant military escalation between India and Pakistan. India is also looking into claims from Pakistan that two Indian Air Force jets were downed and a pilot was captured.
In the pre-dawn hours of Tuesday morning, a dozen Mirage fighter jets backed by Sukhoi aircrafts carried out aerial strikes on a Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) terror training facility. Twelve days after the attack at Pulwama which claimed the lives of 40 CRPF troopers, and for the first time since 1971, the Indian Air Force crossed the Line of Control (LoC) to carry out military strikes. The Tribune editorial praised the ‘perfect preemptive strike’
“We as a nation have been for long at the receiving end of jihadi terror attacks planned and launched from the Pakistani soil. A bleeding nation at some point has to sew up its wounds and stop the sabre that stabs. If Pakistan does not respond to actionable intelligence, India would obviously be forced to act on it.”
In the aftermath, the LoC is understandably tense and various points along the border are on high alert. According to the government, the biggest terror camp run by JeM was hit hard. Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale said in part, “In this operation, a very large number of JeM terrorists, trainers, senior commanders and groups of jihadis who have been trained for fidayeen action were eliminated.”
#India struck biggest training camp of Jaish-e-Mohammad in Balakot; a very large number of terrorists, trainers, senior commanders and fidayeen jihadis were eliminated: Sh Vijay Gokhale, Foreign Secretary pic.twitter.com/D8kk4gWfWI— PIB India (@PIB_India) February 26, 2019
India, meanwhile shot down a Pakistani F-16 jet on Wednesday morning. With airspace over Srinagar and Jammu shut, along with all flights to Pakistan cancelled, the past 24 hours have been full of activity as both countries take precautionary steps domestically.
The Prime Minister, in a rally hours after the news broke of the operation, declared that the nation “is in safe hands”. The nation including the opposition, sportspersons and celebrities paid tribute to those in uniform in the aftermath of the military operation thanking them for their service. Was this the right response? Was Kargil in the minds of some as the news broke of this operation? SA Aiyar, consulting editor, Economic Times, in a column published last week, writes on the risks of another war with Pakistan -
“He must avoid military action, which could backfire badly. I call the surgical strikes political theatre because they were strategically empty and militarily only fleabites. A good politician satisfies the public blood lust and demand for revenge by finding solutions that soothe angry voters without risking dangerous military escalation.”
Aiyar speaks to the political calculation which needed to be done in the aftermath of the Pulwama attack. Aiyar points out the gamble that Modi, or any leader for that matter would’ve had to make. If the military response resulted in any casualties, the conversation might have been different. There would be questions on whether the operation was a necessity. As Shekhar Gupta points out in his column for the Hindustan Times, the reactions to the strikes show there “is no patience for terror as an instrument of State policy” –
“The strategically smart thing would be to stay calm and keep it non partisan, at least for the next several days. India has demonstrated that it no longer accepts that state/non- state distinction. If Pakistan wishes to retaliate, it has to also know that this isn’t a game of cricket with one innings for either side. This will go on.”
Pakistan plots a response
As the Pakistani government and military take stock of the events of the past 24 hours, some have cautioned against beating the drums of war. The government, similar to what India did, closed airspace for commercial flights. Pakistani media reports suggest that the Peshawar's Bacha Khan International Airport was closed.
Some have called for restraint and cooler heads to prevail in the aftermath of the past two weeks. Former Foreign Secretaries of Pakistan, Riaz Hussain Khokhar, Riaz Mohammad Khan and Inamul Haq, in an op-ed for the Dawn urged restraint prior to the air strikes –
“This fraught situation can spark a conflict with incalculable consequences for both Pakistan and India. New Delhi has resorted to beat the drums of war. Pakistan faces the challenge to avert a catastrophe that Indian actions may precipitate in South Asia… it should also be unthinkable for the two nuclear neighbours to initiate a conflict that has the potential of getting out of control.”
The supposed downing of the two aircraft “was to demonstrate our right, will and capability for self defence. We do not wish to escalate but are fully prepared if forced into that paradigm” said the Pakistan Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
In response to PAF strikes this morning as released by MoFA, IAF crossed LOC. PAF shot down two Indian aircrafts inside Pakistani airspace. One of the aircraft fell inside AJ&K while other fell inside IOK. One Indian pilot arrested by troops on ground while two in the area.— Maj Gen Asif Ghafoor (@OfficialDGISPR) February 27, 2019
Rest of the world responds
A number of countries, including the EU, Australia, Russia and the United States cautioned India and Pakistan to not escalate the situation further after India’s air strikes.
China, an ally of Pakistan, chided India for acting unilaterally and suggested that India should’ve responded with International consultation and cooperation. Michael Kugelman, in a column for Foreign Policy faults India’s Kashmir policy and Pakistan’s refusal to crack down on state sponsored terrorism –
“So long as Pakistan continues to provide space and other forms of succor to terrorists on its soil, Kashmir will be vulnerable to terrorism. The Modi government has made matters worse by embracing a tone-deaf Kashmir policy that alternates between promising more development to communities more concerned about repression than poverty.”
The situation domestically is complex given it's an election year. For the world, the ever-present concern remains of two nuclear-armed nations beginning another war with guns and tanks could end up far more catastrophic.
More columns by Varun Sukumar