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India’s Saturation Point

On 14 February 2019 , at around 1515h , India’s security forces were attacked, whereby ‘unarmed’ Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel was attacked by a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device (VBIED) at Lethpora in the Pulwama district of J&K , leaving around 40 martyrs for India to mourn. This was perhaps one of the biggest attack since 1989[1]. The Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) – a Pakistan – based Islamic group, claimed responsibility for the same , along with a hint of planning more attacks on the India sub-continent. This was  the first time, when  a local Kashmiri youth was used as a suicide bomber to execute the plan. India strongly condemned the attack as evident from the statement :

The Government of India condemns in the strongest possible terms the cowardly terrorist attack on our brave security forces in Pulwama, Jammu & Kashmir earlier today (14 February 2019).

The PM before flagging off the Vande Bharat Express between New Delhi and Varanasi mentioned that,the perpetrators of the Pulwama attack would be punished and that free hand has been given to the security forces to act, thus giving a hint of the counter attack. If reports are to be believed then, the rationale behind the attack was the delay in resolving the Kashmir issue.

Indians  came together to pay respect to it’s martyrs , along with a promise to stand with the Armed Services in avenging the death of the bravehearts.The first step towards this, was when Indian Army charged the terrorists with specific intelligence , neutralizing the terrorists. Unfortunately, we also lost some of our brave officers in the counter - encounter. However, a major  step towards avenging the death of officers  was taken on 26 February 2019, when in the early hours of the day, India carried out “a preemptive non-military attack” on JeM terror camp in Balakot. The attack was carried out by the Indian Air Force (IAF) , whereby, 12 Mirage -2000 aircrafts, dropped six bombs of around 1000 kgs on the terrorist training camps mainly in Balakot camp, killing around 250-300 terrorists. The whole operation was of around 20 mins, under the supervision of the Western Air Command. In order to confuse the Pakistani defence forces , the fighter aircrafts , took off from several airbases in a ‘synchronised operation’, at around the same time. Post takeoff a small swarm of aircrafts broke from the main swarm in order to carry on the attack.  The attack came as a surprise, not only to Pakistan but also to the Indian population at large.

The whole operation was executed in a well-planned  manner ,whereby , the targets were  carefully selected, keeping all the possibilities in mind, so that, no one could point at any civil  casualities  in the area.

The Indian Army and the Special forces were kept ready on ground to  move and act if and when the situation requires. Although, the situation did not become worse, however, on 28 February 2019, India woke up the news of counter attack from the Pakistani side. It has been confirmed by the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) , that on 27 February 2019 morning Pakistan F-16 aircraft was spotted on top of Indian airspace, with an intention of inflicting damage on military installations on the Indian side. The Pakistan aircraft was gunned down and neutralized, thus foiling the ‘damage plan’.Unfortunately, in the aerial fight, India lost one Mig-21 Bison, and Pakistan held  the IAF pilot Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman into their custody. Later, due to international pressure Wg Commander Abhinandan was released within 2 days of his detention.

PAKISTAN’S RESPONSE

Pakistan, with respect to the Pulwama attack, played the ‘denial card’ whereby, it denied any  link with the attack, and warned India of a possible retaliatory attack in case, India attacked Pakistan. Pakistan also was ready to discuss the “issue of terrorism”  with India. Indeed ironical, as Pakistan did not take much action against terrorist organizations operating from it’s soil.

After the Balakot airstrike, Pakistan Foreign Minister Makhdoom Shah Mahmood Qureshi ‘rebutted’ India’s claimes of attacking the terrorist camps. Instead, according to Pakistan, India’s bombs landed on ‘uninhabited remote area’. India’s airstrike was considered to be an intrusion, and Pakistan took pride in commenting that, Pakistani Air Force Jets successfully intercepted the Indian Jets , forcing them to return back.

The Pakistan Air Force , on 27 February understook strike across the Line of Control from within the Pakistani airspace, claiming it to be just a show of strength and it’s capability for self defence. Pakistan’s “denial-accusation strategy” however, did not work , as evident from the reactions of the international community.

INTERNATIONAL RESPONSE

What came to light after the attack, was the unity and support extended by the international community to India , as no one considered India’s airstrike to be a security threat. An interesting part of the whole Indo-Pak fiasco was the ‘neutrality’ of China with respect to the airstrike. The Foreign Ministry Spokesperson of China Lu  Kang, in a regular press conference held on 26 February 2019 called for India and Pakistan to ‘exercise restraint’ and ‘take actions’, that will help to stabilize situation in the region and also the  improve bilateral relations. Additionally, China in the RIC Foreign Ministers’ Meet (2019)[2] assured that, Russia , India and China, will jointly combat all forms of terrorism through closer policy coordination and practical cooperation. China however, is still not in favour of declaring the JeM Chief Masood Azhar  as a global terrorist – thus still, to some extent safeguarding Pakistan. It could be said that,  terrorism is a global problem which calls for co-operation among the nations at the international level. Russia and Nepal issued official statement stressing on the de-escalation of tension between India and Pakistan , as important for peace and stability in the region. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, in an official statement requested India and Pakistan to de-escalate current tensions between the two countries, by avoiding military actions  and have also requested Pakistan to take (on an urgent basis) meaningful action  against terrorist groups operating on its soil. Similar statement came from France , who extended their full support to India in it’s fight against terrorism , also stating that,it would be fully engaged in mobilizing the international community to sanction the terrorists responsible for the attack and freeze their financing network.

Lessons Learnt and Way Forward 

The Pulwama attack taught that, India should adopt a “hard approach” towards Nations supporting terrorism by any means. Since Cross-Border terrorism is of prime concern, therefore, Indian Intelligence should also identify the gaps, fill them, so as to track even a minor suspicious movement.

Additionally, India should strictly exercise the card of “diplomatic isolation” with respect to Nations supporting terrorism. There is also an urgent need to work on our response mechanism towards such attacks, which should be known to all at the appropriate level. Civil and military integration at appropriate levels would play a key role in preventing such attacks in the future.

The Pulwama attack was the saturation point of India’s tolerance towards terrorism, as Pakistan was given enough opportunities to check terrorism activities operating from its soil. India’s air strikes might be considered as a warning that, now India will deal with terrorist activities in its own way, with no bindings i.e. surgical strikes would remain the order of the day. Also, citizen’s diplomacy was at its best post Pulwama attacks.

The Pulwama aftermaths will stay for long and would be itched in the Indian minds for long time.

 

 

References

1. Atleast 40 Indian paramilitary police was killed in a bomb attack by militants on their convoy in Indian-administered Kashmir. The JeM claimed responsibility for the same.

2. Russia-India-China Summit held in Zhejiang, China on 27 February 2019

3.Press Information Bureau , Ministry of External Affairs  “Statement by Foreign Secretary on the Strike on JeM training camp in Balakot” , 26 February 2019, accessed on 27 February 2019 , accessible at http://pib.nic.in/PressReleseDetail.aspx?PRID=1566325

4. French Embassy in India , “Statement by the acting spokesperson of the Ministry of Europe and Foreign Affairs” , 26 February 2019, accessed on 28 February 2019 2019, accessible at https://in.ambafrance.org/India-Combatting-terrorism.

5.U.S. Embassy & Consulates in India , “Statement by Secretary Pompeo :Concern Regarding India-Pakistan Tensions” , 27 February 2019, accessed on 28 February 2019, accessible at https://in.usembassy.gov/statement-by-secretary-pompeo-concern-regarding-india-pakistan-tensions/

6. Ministry of Foreign Affairs : Governmet of Pakistan , “Pakistan Strikes Back” , 27 February 2019, accessed on 21 March 2019, accessible at http://www.mofa.gov.pk/pr-details.php

7. Ministry of Foreign Affairs : Governmet of Pakistan , “Foreign Minister Briefs the Diplomatic Corpson Intrusion by Indian Aircraft  on 26th February , 2019” , 26 February 2019, accessed on 21 March 2019, accessible at http://www.mofa.gov.pk/pr-details.php

8. Ministry of External Affairs,  “India strongly condemns the cowardly terrorist attack on our security forces in Pulwama, Jammu and Kashmir”, 14 February 2019 . accessed on 27 February 2019 , accessible at 

9. PM INDIA, “PM’s statement on terror attack in Pulwama” , 15 February 2019 , accessed on 27 February 2019, accessible at https://www.pmindia.gov.in/en/news_updates/pms-statement-on-terror-attack-in-pulwama/?comment=disable

 

Views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of CLAWS or of the Government of India

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Shreya Das Barman
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