The situation between India and Pakistan is such that neither country is in a position to afford a full-blown conflict. The question is however, who will take the first step forward towards peace?
With the escalating tensions between India and Pakistan, the latter has extended its hand for peace. Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan, as a goodwill gesture, today said Pakistan will release captured India Air Force Pilot Abhinandan tomorrow (March 1). The surprise announcement comes barely hours after foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi said Prime Minister Khan is ready to talk to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to de-escalate Indo-Pak tensions.
“In our desire of peace, I announce that, and as a first step to open negotiations, Pakistan will release the Indian Air Force officer in our custody tomorrow,” Imran Khan announced this in Pakistan Parliament. Addressing the joint session of Parliament, Imran Khan, however said our de-escalation efforts should not be seen as a weak gesture.
However, earlier in the day today there were reports that the Pakistani Army heavily shelled forward posts along the LoC in Jammu and Kashmir’s Poonch and Rajauri districts, committing repeated ceasefire violations but drawing “strong” retaliation from the Indian Army, an official said.
This is the seventh consecutive day that Pakistan breached the ceasefire, targeting forward posts along the LoC.
Also exclusive details emerged on the unprecedented air combat operation along the Line of Control, where a package of 24 Pakistani aircraft were intercepted by eight IAF fighters.
Tensions between two countries rose after suicide car bombing by Pakistan-based armed group, Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM), in Pulwama in Kashmir that killed at least 42 Indian police personnel belonging to Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), paramilitary forces on February 14. Pulwama district is on the border between the two countries.
Following this the Indian Air Force retaliated by dropping multiple 1,000 kg bombs on Jaish-e-Mohammed terror camps across the Line of Control (LoC) in Muzafarabad, Pakistan. As many as 12 Mirage 2000 jets partook in the operation that claimed to have destroyed all terror camps of JeM across Balakot, Chakothi and Muzaffarabad in Pakistan.
This is the first such attack by India since it went to war with Pakistan in 1971. It did not venture into Pakistan during Kargil war in 1999. It is also the first time a nuclear power has used an air strike against another nuclear power on its territory.
Justifying the action India’s foreign secretary, Vijay Gokhale, asserted that that attack was “a pre-emptive strike” after receiving credible intelligence that the militant group JeM, which was behind the recent suicide bombing, was training fighters for similar attacks at the site.
Denying the impact of India Air Force raids Pakistan has denied that Indian bombs hit anything but a deserted hilltop and brought foreign journalists to the site to prove it.
Pakistan for its part also responded with air raids across the line of control (LoC) which separates India- from Pakistan-administered Kashmir and claims to have downed two Indian fighter jets and have also arrested two Indian fighter pilots.
Where is Balakot?
It is in Mansehra district of Pakistan that emerged as one of Jaish-e-Mohammed’s largest military training centres in 2001, that was used as a training ground for thousands of recruits.
Several madrassas, masjids and control rooms are controlled by JeM chief Masood Azhar and his brother Abdul Rauf Asghar is said to be supervising these camps.
Azhar is the founder of JeM that has been labelled as an international terrorist group by the US and United Nations in 2001.
What is significant is strikes were in Pakistan not PoK. Balakot is incidentally a place where the original jihadist Syed Ahmed Barelvi was killed by the Sikh army of Maharaja Ranjit Singh in the 19th Century. Barelvi serves as an icon for most modern day Pakistani jihadists. Therefore, striking Balakot is both symbolic and substantive move from India.
A war cannot be ruled out
Full-fledged war between two Asian neighbours is not new. But what is perhaps this is the first time since the 1971 Indo-Pakistani war that the two countries attack targets deep within each other’s territories. India and Pakistan have fought wars in 1947, 1965, 1971 and in 1999.
Even as both India and Pakistan establishments are engaged in a vicious cycle of countering each other the risk of an all-out conflict cannot be ruled out.
Sushant Sareen, a strategic affairs expert and the author of The Jihad Factory, Pakistan’s Islamic Revolution in the Making, writes: “India has no terrorist camps. The only thing Pakistan can hit are civilian or military targets. This will not be taken lying down by India and there will be a massive retaliation, which next time will not be limited to only terror camps but also military and civilian targets in Pakistan. Can Pakistan afford this escalation? Does it even want this escalation? The other choice before Pakistan is to play down the Indian attack. Unlike the ‘Surgical Strikes’, deniability is not an option.”
Not a war against Pakistan
India is claiming that it is not a war or a military strike. “This should be seen as a counter-terror strike. The objective was to eliminate the terror outfits and terrorists that are based there,” asserted the former Chief of Army Staff General Ved Prakash Malik (retd) who was Army chief during the Kargil War.
Aided and abetted by Pakistan and its army, terrorists have struck across Indian cities including Indian Parliament in 2001 and attacked Mumbai city in 2008. However Pakistan continues to deny the existence of terrorists and terror camps on its soil.
There are compulsions of the latest flashpoint between two arch rivals. Experts point out to the upcoming General Election which is a few weeks away. “While India’s reasons to attack may have been partly influenced by the upcoming national elections in the country, with its counterstrike, Pakistan seeks to avoid embarrassment and to ensure that such attacks do not become routine in future.
Condemning the Pulwama terror attack, and lauding the courage of Indian Air Force pilots who destroyed a Jaish-e-Mohammed training camp situated in Pakistan, opposition parties criticised the Modi government over blatant politicisation of the prevailing security situation and deaths of armed personnel, signalling that they would no longer restrain themselves from questioning it.
The meeting of 21 parties expressed their deep anguish over the blatant politicisation of the sacrifices made by our armed forces by leader of the ruling party. National security must transcend narrow political considerations,” Rahul Gandhi said reading from the opposition joint memorandum. It also questioned how Prime Minister Modi has regrettably not convened an all-party meeting as per the established practice in India.
“Do not undermine India’s fight against terrorism for partisan benefits,” said Sitaram Yechury, general secretary CPI(Marxist).
Exercise restraint: Global community
Expressing serious concern over the current flare up international community asked both India and Pakistan to exercise maximum restraint. As both India and Pakistan are nuclear rivals the danger of a full-fledged war will no doubt endanger peace, stability and prosperity. Consequences will be quite catastrophic.