India has done Pakistan a big favour by striking at Jaish-e-Mohammad training facilities in Balakot in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province of Pakistan. Although Pakistan has been on the receiving end of its own terror monsters, it has lacked the will and stamina to dismantle their infrastructure. Not that India has gone the full distance with only one Indian Air Force strike, but it has made a statement that is hard to ignore, especially for a Pakistan that now has to answer questions from within.
Most importantly, the ability of the Indian Air Force to reach a well-established training camp poses a moral and military dilemma.
Taking out of Osama Bin Laden from Abbottabad in 2011 created a crisis for the Pakistan military, and it became the butt of many jokes within society, especially to do with sleep. This time around, the Pakistan military establishment cannot afford to allow jokes or any snide comments, because this time, the violator of its airspace is India.
Even as details of the Balakot air strikes take time to appear from the haze of debris and dazzle, the fact is that India did cross into Pakistan controlled airspace, and fired precision-guided munitions into buildings that housed terrorists – which, in itself, is entering new territory for both countries.
A new military reaction has been tested, and found effective, so far. And that is the big difference between the air strikes of 2019 and the ground-launched ‘surgical strikes’ of September 2016. A major focus of the 2016 strikes was the domestic audience in India, rather than terrorists and their masters in Pakistan. The tactical nature of the targets and depth of operations makes it clear that influencing India was at the core of launching those strikes in 2016. Political ownership was claimed for the first time, despite India having conducted many such operations in the past.
This time around, the messaging is clearly to both – India is soon to vote, and Pakistan has yet to be true to its word on terror. How much these strikes affect votes in India is difficult to gauge at this early stage. But it is clear that Pakistan will be reeling from the message, which IAF delivered before dawn. Just as there was a clamour for revenge in India post-Pulwama, there will be shrill calls for a response from within Pakistan. “Blood for blood”, in sub-continent slang.
The deep dislike for India that resides within elements of the Pakistani state should never be under-estimated. It is atavistic, anachronistic, and endemic. Climate change or any other global phenomenon will not affect the outlook of some within the Pakistani state. This dislike is so deep that long-term Pakistani interests can be sacrificed for the sake of hurting or humiliating India. Such elements of the Pakistani state rear terrorists of various hues, for varying purposes, with the sole aim of hurting and harming India. In the process, even if Pakistan bleeds it doesn’t matter, as long as Indian blood flows too.
At the same time, what should not be over-estimated is the ability of the Pakistani state. Running a rentier system from almost the time of its inception, the Pakistani state lacks the internal fabric to undertake tasks and live up to commitments. The state, instead of being a ‘whole’ working in reasonable tandem is, in fact, a tangled coalition competing for whatever space and resources they can stick their fingers into. Occupying the prime position is, of course, the Pakistan army, which over time has metamorphosed into an ideological force, and not simply a professional body bearing arms.
The state is so messed up that a Pakistan army chief, and then president too, were targeted twice for assassination. And by the same JeM that now hurts India. Yet, the elements of the Pakistani state will protect and provide for JeM, motivated by a dream that the flags of faith shall rule India again. Disabusing them of these dreams is the task for both India, and those Pakistanis that want a normal country to live in. But these bizarre state elements would tolerate a bit of Pakistani suffering too, as long as India bleeds, from all the cuts that are being administered.
Even as India and Pakistan enter into a new territory post-Pulwama and Balakot, the realities of this game must always be kept in mind. Destroying terror infrastructure is the duty of all sane people in this world. India has done its part, and the sane in Pakistan must do the same. But given that some elements in the Pakistani state will still resist, expecting success is a tall order. In the counter-terror game, success cannot be measured by buildings brought down and the dozens killed. Success is solely measured by eliminating the source of terror, which springs from the mind. The current anatomy of the mind suggests Pakistan will respond. Success is a long way away.
The author is editor of Defence & Security Alert and a former member of parliamentary standing committee on defence between 2004 and 2009.