The air strikes on Balakot had also at least two other firsts to its credit. It is perhaps the first time a nuclear armed country has resorted to the use of air power at targets in the territory of another nuclear armed country. The other is the downing of a Pakistani F16 fighter jet by a vintage 1960s model MiG 21 fighter. This has stunned the West and the US arms lobbies that want to push India into a deal to buy upgraded F16s. Hence, their silence or denials about the F16 being used, by Pakistan a day after the Indian air strikes, as a face saving attack on an Indian military Brigade headquarters near the LOC. India’s swift response to Pakistani air armada, led to the F16 being shot down in aerial combat. Pakistani denials are both to save its face at home, and to pacify the US, which apparently needs to give permission for the use of its equipment against another US-friendly country. The question India might want to ask itself is who all could India use against the $15 billion worth of military arms and platforms that New Delhi has recently bought from the US?
by Maroof Raza (from the April ’19 edition)
Those who question the truth behind the Indian Air Force’s spectacular air strikes on terror camps deep inside Pakistan, are unable to explain why Pakistan’s reactions were filled with confusion and contradictory statements – like they were after the US raid on Abottabad – including that of their Prime Minister Imran Khan, as the sheer audacity of the Indian air strikes had specially left Pakistan’s brass hats stunned. The inaction by India against several Pakistan sponsored terror strikes over the past three decades – with the exception of the commando raids cross the LOC in 2016, that came to be known as ‘surgical strikes’ – had lulled Pakistan’s military established into believing that ‘war was not an option’ for India, since it could escalate into a nuclear confrontation. But the India’s air strike has blown a hole through the Pakistani article of faith, that their nuclear arsenal was a protective shield against all their adventurism on Indian soil.
With hindsight, there is reason to believe that Delhi’s reluctance to respond with military force either after the Jaish-e-Muhammad attack on the Indian Parliament in December 2001 and the massive military mobilization thereafter, or the Lashkar-e-Toiba attack on Mumbai in November 2008, had further emboldened Pakistan’s military hawks. Even during the Kargil conflict (1999) Mr Vajpayee had drawn the line for the armed forcs to respect the sanctity of the LOC. But Pakistan has repeatedly shown it didn’t deify the LOC. Had Mr Vajpayee (in 2001) and Dr Manmohan Singh (in 2008) given our armed forces permission to respond on similar lines as Mr Modi did recently after the Pulwama attack in February, with at least air strikes on Pakistan’s terror machinery in POK (since all of J&K including POK, is technically and legally Indian territory), Pakistan would have had to rethink its strategy of using terrorism as an extension of its foreign policy.
And though India’s ‘strategic restraint’ then did get New Delhi universal applause, but we also lost many, many more Indian lives in the bargain. This inimical guarantee of India’s reluctance to cross the self-imposed restriction, gave immunity to the Pakistani ‘deep state’ to continue to bleed India. But the Indian air strikes on Balakot, has changed that narrative forever. It has blown a hole through Pakistan’s nuclear umbrella, to push terrorists into India and use their so called Jihadi soldiers to keep India on the back foot, while the Pakistani armed forces strutted about their country as the ‘guardians of the state’. Their blackmail had held out for three decades even after thousands of Kashmiri’s and Indian soldiers had become victims of Pakistan’s ‘proxy war’ to wrest the Kashmir valley away from India.
The air strikes on Balakot had also at least two other firsts to its credit. It is perhaps the first time a nuclear armed country has resorted to the use of air power at targets in the territory of another nuclear armed country. The other is the downing of a Pakistani F16 fighter jet by a vintage 1960s model MiG 21 fighter. This has stunned the West and the US arms lobbies that want to push India into a deal to buy upgraded F16s. Hence, their silence or denials about the F16 being used, by Pakistan a day after the Indian air strikes, as a face saving attack an Indian military brigade headquarters near the LOC. India’s swift response to Pakistani air armada, led to the F16 being shot down in aerial combat. Pakistani denials are both to save its face at home, and to pacify the US, which apparently needs to give permission for the use of its equipment against another US-friendly country. The question India might want to ask itself is who all could India use against the $15 billion worth of military arms and platforms that New Delhi has recently bought from the US?
What makes Pakistan even more nervous is what India could do now – hence their excessive use of drones to keep a watch on Indian troop movements along the border – since the Indian military briefing, where the missile parts of the Pak F16 were displayed. India has made it known that India’s forces are ready for all responses beyond the LOC with mechanised forces (that is tanks and AFVs) and the Indian Navy is prepared to respond at various levels too. It may be noted that the with a nuclear powered submarine, India’s nuclear triad is now in place, and it gives Pakistan little room for maneuver. But unlike India, Pakistan’s options are limited, and predictable, since the Pakistan Army, that has repeatedly followed virtually the same plans every time, that envisages the use irregular forces – a model fine tuned by General Ayub Khan first in the 1960s – before they launch regular troops, all led by their army officers into India, with an aim to wrest Kashmir valley from India. They did so in the 1947 and 1965 wars and again during the Kargil conflict. And they’ve done the same all these years in J&K in the hope that the ground will be readied for their regular troops to roll-in!
In the mid 1980s Pakistan’s military establishment led by General Zia-ul-Haq had concluded that it was impossible for Pakistan to win a conventional war against India or even to liberate parts of Kashmir to fulfill their long standing ambition to avenge their humiliation, following the fall of Dacca and the large scale surrender of the Pakistan Army. The only other way Pakistan could “do a Bangladesh” on India was to go beyond the established military narrative of fighting a conventional war like the 1965 and 1971 wars. This was a plan of Gen Zia was named ‘Op-Topac’, which Zia had unveiled just before he died. It has become the basis of Pakistan’s longest running military operation in J&K. It aims at the annexation of the Valley through an insurgency, alienation of the locals and its radicalization, backed finally by a military invasion!
The strategy of the Pakistan military establishment is to bleed India through cross border terrorism, and by telling India and its leadership, that if India’s military response did push Pakistan into a corner, then Pakistan wouldn’t hesitate to use all its nuclear bombs. In recent years this claim has included the threats of the use of tactical nuclear weapons – that cover a limited area of a few kilometers – if Indian troops were to advance deep into Punjab, their strategic heartland and the home of most of Pakistan’s generals and its army.
But India knows, that Pakistan’s generals are anything, but stupid, and so, they wouldn’t blow themselves up! The essence of nuclear weapons is their ability to deter conflict and the chest thumping assertions by Pakistani politicians that they have an equalizer against a bigger and superior Indian military, shows that they are ill-informed. Studies and war gaming over the past decades (in think tanks abroad) have confirmed that the military brass hats of both India and Pakistan are most unlikely to even consider the use of their nuclear arsenal at the height of a military confrontation, as the Kargil conflict had shown. Moreover, war is a costly option, and Pakistani brass knows that the cost to them would be unbearable. While the Kargil conflict had cost an estimated Rs 5000 crores a week, a current war would cost each side about Rs 6000 ($1 billion dollars) a day. Thus a week long military campaign would wipe out all that there is in Pakistan’s foreign exchange reserves! For India, such a cost to finally put Pakistan’s generals out of the terror business, still might just be worth it!
However, for Pakistan the annexation of Kashmir, through whatever means, is its long standing ambition, not only as an article of faith and a binding adhesive for a country that is so deeply rooted and doctored in anti-India narratives, that nothing short of the absorption of the Kashmir Valley will be acceptable to its public now. But more than the Kashmiris itself, it is the waters of the Indus and its rivers and its tributaries that are the real prize that Pakistan’s policy makers have always had their eyes on. Pakistan is hugely dependent on the waters of the Indus rivers system and recognizing this vulnerability, Pandit Nehru had signed a heavily one sided Indus Waters Treaty with President Ayub Khan of Pakistan in September 1960.
It gives Pakistan 80% of the waters of Indus and its rivers, though it still complains of being squeezed by India, which strangely hasn’t even effectively used the 20% of its waters that is its due. But now, following the Pulwama attack, the Indian government has finally announced its intentions to at least do that, hoping this might put pressure on Pakistan to mend its ways. The waters of the Indus and its rivers however are not just needed by Pakistan but also by China, which now has begun building huge dams on the Indus in POK.
China’s strategic goals are to be eventually the most powerful country in the world or at least on par with the US. And the one way it intends to achieve that is through the more and more production of microchips that already control everything from mobile phones, pacemakers and geo stationary satellites. To produce these in abundance, China needs enormous amounts of water – a 30 cm silicon wafer requires almost 10,000 litres of fresh water – and that China plans to get from the huge dams it is now building on the Indus in POK as part of the CPEC, that is China’s strategic gateway via POK and Pakistan into West Asia and Africa. Also China occupies over 25% of the territory of J&K and thus is now party to the dispute over Kashmir. No wonder that Beijing still gives Pakistan the necessary diplomatic support, especially in the UN.
But the assumption that China would come out in support of Pakistan militarily, if India were to respond with more military action – after having exhausted all other diplomatic, economic and geopolitical options – is misplaced, even though China has made major investments in Pakistan through the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and in Gwadar port, plus in a few large dams on the Indus in the northern areas of POK. China has always been careful not to go against the vast tide of international opinion, beyond a point, unless it’s own agenda is challenged, as in the South China Sea.
No wonder it has now given its consent to a broad UNSC admonishment of Pakistan and its terror apparatus. Also, in the past China, did not intervene in Pakistan’s favour either during the 1965 and 1971 Indo-Pak wars or during the Kargil conflict, and may not do so now. Even then, India’s long term counter terrorism strategy must build in diplomatic and trade measures to penalize China, that has enjoys many trade benefits in the Indian market.
But neither the Indian air strikes nor pressure such as the threat of pulling out of the Indus Waters Treaty will be able to immediately discipline Pakistan. Islamabad’s weakest pressure point is its current economic plight, and it is looking for financial bailouts from the IMF, despite grants from China, Saudi Arabia and UAE, all of whom enjoy leverage over Pakistan. The Chinese and the Saudis have strong ties with Pakistan’s military establishment, which is the main culprit in creating, nurturing, and sponsoring terrorism against India as also in Afghanistan and Iran. Thus to clip their wings, an Indian diplomatic drive against Pakistan must seek to stall any aid to this rouge state and convince the world to tighten the noose against Pakistan’s generals and all their vested interest in their country and abroad, like in the US and UAE.
Unless that is done with sufficient vigour, Pakistan’s generals like Myanmar’s, would continue to prosper, while their country slides deeper and deeper into a dark hole. And India alone cannot do that even if it resorts to another set of air strikes.