Balakot Airstrikes never got the credit it deserved and it’s high time we realize it’s importance

When Surgical Strikes happened in 2016, many people rightly asked whether this would be effective in eliminating or reducing terror. We have the advantage of hindsight, which defense forces don’t have when taking those decisions. Terrorism has definitely reduced in last 5 years specially since Surgical Strikes but can it all be attributed to the strikes? Of course not. A long list of decisions and measures have been taken of which Surgical Strikes was a major part to achieve this feat.

I measure the effectiveness of Surgical Strikes slightly differently. For me, major military operations should not be looked at with a myopic view but should be seen in the larger narrative to understand their significance aptly. Surgical strikes acted as a warning to Pakistani establishment that India will no longer suffer in silence, instilled fear in the hearts of terrorists that they can be eliminated even before they can start their journey of Jihad, and helped gauge the mood of the world which vehemently was in India’s favor.

After a relative peace of 2.5 years since Uri when no major terrorist attack happened, a big attack in Pulwama shook the nation very hard. It was a first of its kind of attack in Kashmir where a suicide bomber was used, which signaled the entry of Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) in Kashmir as they frequently used to resort to this style of attacking in Afghanistan.

Every terror attack happens for a reason. Terrorist groups are not a gang of some “Bhatke Hue Naujwan” that they randomly attack whatever they feel like. They are much more organised and structured than we like to believe. The intention behind the Pulwama attack was to communally charge the atmosphere in India just before the elections as people would get emotional looking at the dead bodies of their young ones coming back to their villages and town and many wrong decisions can happen when you are in an emotionally charged state. This has been used multiple times in the past as well by the Pakistanis.

Another intention was to discredit the current government and its leader PM Narendra Modi as they were pinning their hopes on the assumption that PM would not risk a military operation so close to the elections as there is always a 50% chance that things can go wrong, and situation can spiral out of control completely within no time.

However, they forgot to take into account the fact that the leader who is sitting on the most powerful chair in the country is Narendra Damodardas Modi. He not only ordered the retaliation but made sure that the retaliation is of the magnitude that it changes the world order completely.

Surgical Strikes 2.0 was an option but that might have assuaged the feelings of the common man but would have sent out a weak signal to Pakistan and the world that India is not serious in tackling terrorism but its leadership just wants to use it as a vote garnering exercise. The message had to be loud and clear if India was serious about fighting terror.

This is where the decision of conducting Air Strikes in 3 locations including Balakot becomes extremely important. We need to understand its significance, analyze its reactions and figure out the consequences it has had in last month and a half which is a lot in politics – whether domestic or world.

Significance

This was the first time Indian fighter jets crossed LOC since 1971. In 1971, when the jets crossed the LOC, the war had already been declared. We did not cross LOC even during the major conflicts of Kargil, Parliament attacks, or 26/11 Mumbai attacks. However, this time even when there was no official war going on between the two countries, India decided to cross this self-created ‘Lakshman-Rekha’. So India created a new red line that if terror attack happens on our soil, we would not hesitate in sending our Air Force to your territory and bomb your terror camps and centers.

The choice of Balakot is very significant because it is barely 70-80 Kms away from Abbotabad, a major Pakistan Army center where Osama-Bin-Laden was found hiding. So if India can reach Balakot, it can certainly reach Abbotabad and Rawalpindi.

Another important thing was India chose a target that destroyed a complete ecosystem of terrorism industry with terrorists, preachers, handlers, trainers, and others. This was to give a clear message to Pakistan and the world that India means business. It is serious in its fight against terrorism and is capable of hitting it at its root.

Reactions

Pakistan, having being left completely surprised, tried to seek support of the other nations but forget about others, its all weather ally China also left it to fend for itself. Having left alone, to assuage the feelings of its own people, it mounted a hurriedly planned attack on India the next day. Its fighter jets not only outnumbered India by a significant margin but were also technically much superior thanks to F-16s.

A dogfight ensued between Indian and Pakistani fighter jets in which India downed one of their F-16 and lost one of its Mig-21. This showed Pakistan defense forces in a very poor light as even after being armed with an F-16, they got beaten by a much maligned and inferior Mig-21. Simultaneously, it established the Indian Air Force’s superiority over its Pakistani counterpart. The major setback, however, was that Pakistan had captured our Mig-21 pilot Captain Abhinandan, who had downed the F-16.

Although what followed afterwards was not seen in India’s history ever before. We all witnessed a series of events which had never happened before. US President was acting like a spokesperson for India when he said “something big is going to happen”, when India’s Prime Minister was silent. We saw all three Forces’ heads address a joint press conference in the capital and give proof for their claims regarding F-16. They also gave a loud and clear message that they were prepared for any situation.

China was nowhere to be seen, only doing lip-service by asking both countries to maintain peace. This was monumental as it broke the myth of China-Pakistan unity in case of war between India and Pakistan.

Pakistan, with no other option left, decided to save its face by releasing the brave Indian Captain as a “peace gesture”.

Consequences

Pakistan has still not completely opened its airspace even after 50 days. This is the height of Pakistan’s paranoia. Its nuclear threat has been shattered. Its economy is in shambles (thanks to demonitization in 2016, more on that later) and the world is openly warning and threatening Pakistan to mend its ways. It is completely unsure of its immediate and long term future.

But looking at Balakot only from the strategic side of Pakistan would be a big injustice to the one of the most effective military operations ever carried out in the world. It has changed the world order and its politics. It has broken old relations and put the foundation for the new ones. The signs of which are very clear in last month or so.

China, who has invested billions of dollars in Pakistan for CPEC, is now worried about the future of its investments because if India can bomb inside Pakistan territory, it can certainly take out its entire trade route in POK and Pakistan. Gwadar Port is another big worry for China due to Indian dominance in those parts of the water.

USA, under Donald Trump, is as pro-India as it was pro-Pakistan under Richard Nixon. USA and India, have united the entire world on terrorism and all the nations are speaking in one voice against it except a few from Middle East, Pakistan and China. USA is going out of its way to support India in this war against terrorism. The recent listing of Masood Azhar as global terrorist is prime example of that.

China is making some U-turns in its foreign policy which almost always never changes. It has removed Bangladesh-Myanmar-India-China Economic Corridor (BMICER) from its ambitious project of Belt Road Initiative (BRI), CPEC is also a part of BRI. This is a tectonic shift in China’s foreign policy vis-a-vis India. China seems to be accepting India as the leader in South East Asia.

Pakistan, which is the epicenter of world terror industry, is looking more and more cornered everyday.

With many myths busted, many relationships exposed, new relations being formed; the world order has completely changed since Balakot air strikes.

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