The last refuge of scoundrels is the first refuge for jingoists, and India is getting crowded with them. With jingoism running high, and media’s orchestrated demand for revenge – disproportionate and swift – getting shriller, it was only a matter of time before bombs were fired. It was expected that the border raid will be undertaken to show “resolute response” to score electoral advantage. But life is full of uncertainties, and predictable outcomes do not necessarily materialise. Indeed, bloodlust being promoted needs body count to quench the thirst for revenge, and also rests on the assumption that there will be no response from Pakistan. Now that India’s 15-minute-long aerial operation – from 3.50 am to 4.05 am on February 26 – was matched by Pakistan downing two India fighter jets and “capturing” an Indian pilot (which India denies although six airports Srinagar, Jammu, Leh, Chandigarh, Amritsar and Pathankot have been closed) and we are back to square one of sorts. It can take a turn for the worse.
A fleet of Mirgae 2000 fighter jets dropped bombs in Balakot, which falls in the Khyber-Pakhtunwa province of Pakistan, and is located 60 kms from the Line of Control (LoC). Besides, India has claimed that it had dropped bombs in Muzafarabad as well as Chakoti in Pakistan-administered Jammu and Kashmir. Indian Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale, in a briefing, said that the pre-dawn attack “struck the biggest training camp of Jaish-e-Mohammad in Balakot”. He said nothing about the other two places, and claimed that the attack was a “non-military pre-emptive” strike in face of the “imminent danger (of more suicide attacks in India).” In this operation, “a very large number of JeM terrorists, trainers, senior commanders and groups of jihadis who were being trained for fidayeen action were eliminated”.
The foreign secretary’s statement claimed, “[T]his facility at Balakot was headed by Maulana Yousuf Azhar (alias Ustad Ghouri), the brother-in-law of Masood Azhar, Chief of JeM.” The statement went on to say that “the facility is located in thick forest on a hilltop far away from any civilian presence.” While the Indian corporate media generated cacophony in flaunting figures of 200-325 JeM militants killed, the foreign secretary was circumspect in stating that “we are awaiting further details”. Meanwhile, Balakot police Chief Saghir Hussain Shah told Associated Press that he had sent teams, and they found “no casualties, no damages on the ground because of the dropping of bomb”.
True, it matters to Pakistan to claim that the “payload dropped” by Indian fighter jets caused no damage, therefore, the official version has to be taken with a pinch of salt. That is until Indian or other media agencies can provide evidence of casualties and the damage caused. However, it is well-nigh impossible for India and the Indian media to offer credible evidence of death toll, without which the entire exercise of dropping of bombs gets reduced in worth. Body counts in blood feuds, between the jingoists in India and Pakistan, not the number of bombs dropped or number of places bombed.
Moreover, how deep across the LoC did the Indian fighters travel? The Hindu reported that from a “standoff ranges of 60-100 km, the fighter jets could fire munitions from a considerable distance”. Is that what transpired? Moreover, could it have been deep enough without encountering resistance from Pakistani air defence? Is it even possible for Indian jets to enter deep, remain there for fifteen minutes, and return safe suffering no damage, unless it was a foray close to the LoC, which would have reduced the chance of suffering damage? Or in fact, the Pakistani air defence was caught napping, and could not mobilise fast enough to offer resistance. Pakistan, in the past, has quietly suffered US intrusion and bombing. It’s not as though US, obviously aware of what was in the making between India and Pakistan, must have forewarned Pakistan, and urged that they play it cool. Pakistan claimed officially that “intrusion (by Indian air force)... in Muzaffarabad sector within Azad Jammu Kashmir was 3-4 miles”. That is not very deep and for an aerial foray, it does not compare very favourably with 500-2000 metres by the much touted “surgical strike” force by the Indian Army in September 2016. In other words, there is still a fog of propaganda surrounding the facts that are yet to emerge unscathed.
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The “surgical strike” in 2016, and the aerial strike now have one thing in common. The DGMO of Indian army had then informed his counterpart that this was a one-off act directed against “terrorist camps & launch pads” and not directed at Pakistan army. This time around, it was the Indian foreign secretary who publicly made it clear that the target was the JeM camp, and not Pakistan’s military. Unlike earlier, however, this time it was touted as a “non-military pre-emptive strike” in face of an “imminent threat” of many more suicide bombings in India.
Meanwhile, if the Indian Air Force targeted just JeM, as they did with the “terrorist launch pads” in 2016, it leaves an impression that the aerial bombing is strictly confined. True, the aerial intrusion and dropping of the bombs is a big military step. Retaliation by Pakistan, and its claim – that Pakistani fighter jets entered India-administered J&K in early hours of Wednesday, and then while retreating, shot down two Indian fighter jets and captured a pilot – shows their own “resolute response”. It has placed Indian government in a quandary. Pakistan is sitting pretty, playing a key role for the US to find a face-saving pulling out of the US troops from Afghanistan. Without this, the US apprehends a repeat of Saigon debacle. The US does carry clout with the Modi sarkar, and knows that any escalation of military confrontation could jeopardise US’s game plan. So, what will India do now?
In this sense, what appeared in the first 24 hours as a ‘jolly good’ ride for the BJP which felt that they have hit the mother lode of electoral politics, while the opposition would have had to struggle hard to focus on real issues plaguing the country. If Indian aerial raid was to make Pakistan suffer, in popular Indian perception, Pakistan’s prompt response has neutralised this.
So, we enter a treacherous terrain. The Achilles heel of the jingoists and their blood lust, is the body count, which, in the case of Balakot, is difficult to come by. And now retaliation by Pakistan within 24 hours has further queered the pitch. The euphoria over aerial raid could not be sustained for too long. Instead, confusion marked by shrill demand for revenge may make their appearance. Needless to add that in all this, let us not forget that it is militancy in Kashmir which is the ‘cause celebre’ for what is playing out between India and Pakistan and developments there can upset many a winning calculations and ambitions.
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