Balakot Air Strikes: Calling Pakistan’s Nuclear Bluff Was Long Due

Pakistani Army needs to feel the heat, by sanctions from western powers, else, it won’t change its course.

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Opinion
5 min read
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Pakistan, which was created in the name of Islam, has struggled with an identity and governance crisis, almost from the word go. In a futile quest for parity with India, its leadership has made numerous wrong choices, relegating it to the ranks of a failing and rogue nation.

Its economy is in doldrums and the polity stands radicalised. The de facto, and often de jure power vests with the armed forces, which has become a law unto itself.

In 1979, at the behest of the US, it took to training Mujahideen (Islamic fighters) to wage jihad (holy war) against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan.

Feted by the West and flush with blood money, as well as, lethal weapons showered on them, the Pakistani rulers, licking the wounds of 1971, simultaneously began training their guns on India. They launched a covert proxy war, first in Indian Punjab and next in Jammu & Kashmir in 1989.

In parallel, they stepped up surreptitious efforts to develop nukes and ballistic missiles. Washington, desirous of keeping Islamabad in good humour, conveniently turned a Nelson’s eye. Pakistan, which has delegated effective control of tactical nuclear weapons to theatre commanders, has since, been blatantly indulging in nuclear blackmail, while engineering terrorist strikes against India.

Why Rawalpindi Won’t Allow Normalisation of Ties With India

Meanwhile, the Deep State and military in Pakistan have trained and nurtured legions of terrorist cadres, which operate with impunity against India, as also Afghanistan and Iran. They spearhead Islamabad’s policy of using terrorism, to advance its strategic objectives. Overtime, vicious groups like Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) and Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), have taken the lead in carrying out audacious attacks against India.

During the Kargil conflict in 1999, a telephonic conversation was intercepted, in which Lt Gen Mohd Aziz, Chief of General Staff, assured Gen Pervez Musharraf, Chief of Army Staff, that the ‘the scruff (tooti) of their (militants’) neck is in our hands, whenever you want, we could regulate it’. Pakistan of course flatly denies their presence, as it feigned any knowledge of the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden, who was eventually traced and neutralised in Rawalpindi, in the shadows of Army headquarters.

Pakistan’s armed forces remain unfazed, and are accountable to none. They have packaged themselves as the custodians of the ‘family silver’, to ward off external aggression. In this narrative, India is painted as the principal villain and enemy. And therein lies the key reason why Rawalpindi will not allow normalisation of relations with India.

In that event, the raison d'être of their pre-eminence will disappear. Over the preceding decades, they have enriched themselves generously. They are now, inter alia, the biggest property developers in Pakistan. The ‘Fauji Foundation’ is the country’s largest multi-billion-dollar business and industrial empire. No wonder they fear nothing more than a break out of peace.

Pakistan’s ‘Innocent’ Act

Prime Minister Vajpayee’s Lahore bus yatra in 1999 was ‘rewarded’ by General Musharraf with the Kargil incursion. His Agra initiative in 2001 led to the horrendous attack by JeM and LeT on the Indian Parliament on 13 December 2001, which brought the two neighbours to the brink of war.

The Dr Manmohan Singh administration’s peace dialogue culminated in the 26/11 attacks in Mumbai, perpetrated by the LeT. The Pathankot attack in early January 2016, followed Prime Minister Modi’s goodwill stopover at Islamabad, to greet PM Nawaz Sharif in late December 2015. Uri (September 2016) and Pulwama (14 February) attacks are just as fresh in public memory.

On every occasion, Pakistan issued routine condemnations and pleaded innocence, notwithstanding claims of responsibility by terrorist organisations based there. The international community mouthed platitudes, urged restraint, and called upon Islamabad to take action.

Despite providing safe heavens and wholesome support to these non-state actors, Pakistan demanded actionable evidence from India, which was duly provided, but studiously ignored. India’s patience was severely tested. It also became evident to New Delhi, that the buck stopped at its table.

Calling Pakistan’s Nuclear Bluff

Pulwama was the proverbial last straw. For once, the global community’s reaction was atypical, reflective of its revulsion with terrorism, of the change in geo-political equations and the growing stature of India. Numerous nations including the US have since, gotten a taste of Pakistan’s perfidy.

American NSA John Bolton called his Indian counterpart to support ‘India’s right to self-defence’. Even Pakistan’s traditional friends like China, Saudi Arabia and UAE privately conveyed their disapproval.

UAE’s unprecedented invitation to India to participate as a ‘Guest of Honour’ in the 1 March OIC conference, rattled Pakistan further. For the first time, the UNSC issued a unanimous statement (reluctantly endorsed by China) condemning the attack on Indian security forces by JeM.

That is the background against which India was forced to carry out pre-emptive air strikes on 26 February, on JeM’s main training camp in Balakot in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.

We had intelligence that JeM was hatching more suicide missions against India. The carefully planned and executed operation, possibly in coordination with the US, was meant to demonstrate India’s capabilities and resolve, as well as, put Pakistan on notice, by calling its nuclear bluff. India also signaled that she had no interest to escalate, and only wanted the terror infrastructure in Pakistan speedily dismantled.

Pakistani Military Needs to Feel the Heat

As usual, Islamabad first pretended that nothing had happened but gradually admitted to the presence of JeM chief Masood Azhar in the country, and JeM’s establishment in Balakot. To save face, it tried to target our military facilities in J&K but was thwarted. They lost a F-16 aircraft but captured our MIG 21 pilot who, in hot pursuit, had to eject in PoK after being hit. Pakistan did the right thing by quickly returning him unharmed on 2 March. Prime Minister Imran Khan has also expressed a desire to speak to PM Modi, which should be useful, in diffusing tensions.

Pakistan has become the epicenter of global jihadi terrorism and will not change course unless its military feels the heat. This would entail imposition of sanctions by the western powers, such as travel ban on senior officers especially of the ISI, suspension of mil-to-mil exchanges and training, embargo on supply of defence hardware, and freezing of overseas assets.

Pakistan cannot be brought to heel without international will and concerted action. Monetary screws also need to be turned on it, by being denied IMF loans, and black listed by the Financial Action Task Force.

Measures India Needs to Take Against Pakistan

In the meanwhile, India would have to take every possible measure – diplomatic, economic and military – against Pakistan. Some steps have been initiated. Additional ones could include cessation of cross-LoC trade, drastic down-gradation of diplomatic ties, stepping up moral support to the persecuted Balochistanis, and declaring Pakistan as a ‘terror state’.

It would be a long and challenging battle, requiring diplomatic nimbleness and perseverance. It is hoped that India is up to the task.

(The writer is a former High Commissioner to Canada, Ambassador to South Korea and Official Spokesperson of the Ministry of External Affairs. He can be reached at @AmbVPrakash. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

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