“Beware the anger of a patient man”
— John Dryden
England’s Poet Laureate (1631-1700)
India’s accumulated rage and exasperation at Pakistan and its sponsorship of separatist terrorism in Kashmir has finally exploded. On February 26, 12 Mirage 2000-H aircraft of the Indian Air Force carried out an airstrike across the Line of Control and deep inside Pakistan, in its Khyber Pakhtunhwa province, hitting Balakot and Chakothit, targeting the main ideological training and logistic support complex of the Jaish-e-Mohammad terrorist network headed by Maulana Masood Azhar. The Indian airstrike was payback for the car bomb attack on February 14 on a troop-carrying vehicle convoy at Pulwama, in which over 40 CRPF jawans were killed. The pre-emptive strike by the Indian Air Force carried a message to Pakistan and its other non-state proxies and their offshoots, the Lashkar-e-Tayyaba (LeT), headed by Hafiz Saeed, the Hizbul Mujaheddin (HM), headed by Syed Salahudeen, putting them on notice that the Indian airstrike on Balakot was only a partial payback. More would be coming whenever required. The Indian Air Force and the Indian Army’s Special Forces have declared open season on these radicalised terror groups, which constitute “plausibly deniable” reserves for Pakistan’s regular military forces. India would see to it that Pakistan’s terror networks would no longer be allowed to sleep in peace.
Pakistan responded with an airstrike mission built around F-16 fighters targeting an Indian infantry brigade headquarters in the Naushara region of Kashmir. The Pakistani mission ran into an Indian Air Force combat air patrol built around MiG-21 Bison fighter aircraft. In the ensuing shootout, a Pakistan Air Force F-16 was shot down by an Indian MiG-21 Bison firing a Russian Vympel air-to-air missile, again regarded as outdated by F-16 standards.
But the impact of the stern message sent by India’s armed forces has been deliberately downgraded by the country’s own political classes, who have demanded “proof” of this achievement. The country is in a frenzied election mode in which nothing is sacrosanct — including playing down the capabilities of its own Air Force just to spite their political opponents in the approaching general election of 2019. That their actions also give sustenance to the Pakistan Army’s campaign of anti-Indian falsehoods protesting injured innocence, and blandly denying any involvement in the Pulwama suicide car bomb attack, did not matter to some of our politicians. Pakistan’s standard policy of constant denial of facts notwithstanding, overwhelming evidence to the contrary has been supported by the false front of Indian politicians assisting Pakistan to exploit the situation to its own advantage in the information warfare battle being waged in international forums.
This internecine political squabbling just prior to the 2019 elections is utterly contemptible and must be condemned in the harshest possible terms. The fallout of these shrill vituperative political debates has been utterly anti-national. The wrangling in the Indian media on the success of the “surgical strike” has only lent weight to biased opinion-makers in the foreign press.
India is caught in a messy, slow-motion “hybrid war” of terrorism, a conflict in which the “death by a thousand cuts” strategy of Mao Zedong’s “People’s War” has been integrated with Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto’s postulation of a “thousand-year-war”, to ultimately bleed to death, politically, economically and militarily. But India has decided to rewrite the script and fashion its own counter-stroke to go after the leadership and the rank and file of these terror organisations and eliminate them in their own lairs. The Balakot strike by the Indian Air Force has carried India’s “war on terror” inside Pakistan. The Line of Control is no longer sacrosanct.
It is encouraging to note that the nation’s diplomatic initiative in starting a “charm offensive” for downsizing Pakistan within the international community is showing results, creeping forward slowly but nevertheless relentlessly. The invitation by the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation to India’s external affairs minister to address the annual gathering of that organisation at Abu Dhabi earlier this month as the guest of honour is an encouraging indicator that these efforts are paying off.
But other options to intensify the fight against Pakistani-sponsored “non-state” militancy also have to be put into action. And India too must put its own house in order. Television grabs of two loutish saffron-clad goons brutalising a Kashmiri merchant on the streets of Lucknow were shameful to watch, but it was good to see the general public of the city actively intervening to protect a Kashmiri citizen of this country and round up the rogues tormenting him. They are to be congratulated and complimented.
The saffron of the national “tiranga” has been sullied enough by rogues and political charlatans. India must understand that a change is coming more rapidly than some people may think. In many ways, South Kashmir is regarded as a touchstone to assess the state of the nation, especially ahead of a general election that promises to be bruising. So it is heartening to see crowds of young hopefuls in Srinagar queuing up at the recruitment rallies of their own “home” regiment, the Jammu and Kashmir Light Infantry. The security forces, in which the Jammu and Kashmir police play a leading role during intelligence-based operations, are on the hunt for perpetrators of the Pulwama attack, more and more of whom are being eliminated. Over 40 personnel of the CRPF have been killed by terrorists. Their comrades are determined to exact vengeance from the terror organisations — Jaish-e-Mohammed, Hizbul or Lashkar-e-Tayyaba, it does not matter.
Finally, can India, a secular, democratic republic, create its own version of “non-state entities” to engage a radical theocratic state like Pakistan on the enemy’s own home turf? Can Pakistan’s motivational ideology of “Ghazwa-e-Hind” or “Jihad-Fi-Sabillah” now be reverse-engineered and turned upon its designers? It is an idea whose time may have come....