BALAKOT AFTERMATH

Hostilities Rise As Pakistan Strikes, India Responds

Surya Gangadharan New Delhi 27 February 2019

Pakistan today carried out what its foreign ministry described as “non military” and “non-retaliatory” strikes on Indian positions across the Line of Control in Jammu & Kashmir. But the Pakistani fighters were detected and the Indian air force responded.

The Indian statement is clear: that one Pakistani F-16 fighter was shot down by an Indian MiG-21 Bison aircraft and it was seen going down in flames on their side of the Line of Control. One MiG-21 was lost and the pilot is missing. India is trying to ascertain Pakistani claims that they have an Indian fighter pilot in their custody.

The Pakistani action within 24 hours of the Indian strike on Balakot on Tuesday suggests their military brass was under pressure to act. In language similar to that used by India, the Pakistani foreign ministry statement, rather dramatically headlined ‘Pakistan Strikes Back’, gave its reasons: “This was not retaliation to continued Indian belligerence. Pakistan has therefore taken strikes at non-military target, avoiding human loss and collateral damage. Sole purpose being to demonstrate our right, will and capacity for self-defence. We have no intention of escalation but are fully prepared to do so if forced into that paradigm.”

Exactly what non-military targets the Pakistanis intended to hit is not clear since the area around the Line of Control is heavily militarised. There are civilian settlements. There are certainly no terror camps although the Pakistani statement tried to give that impression. It said: “We also retain reciprocal rights to retaliate against elements that enjoy Indian patronage while carrying out acts of terror in Pakistan.”

Clearly, the Pakistanis were intending to hit the Indian military although to avoid escalation, they sought to dissimulate by claiming otherwise. Today’s action suggests the Pakistanis are smarting after the Balakot humiliation. This may be the first of more attempts to get their own back which could include major ground level attacks on the Line of Control.

“Indian army pickets and posts in vulnerable areas may come under attack,” warns Lt Gen. Ravi Sawhney, a former director-general, military intelligence. “But we have the capability and the detailed knowledge of Pakistani weaknesses and any action of theirs will evoke an appropriate and credible response.”

Indian diplomats do not believe China will intervene in the event of hostilities breaking out nor is it expected that China will encourage Pakistan to escalate. In fact, a war would be costly and unaffordable for Pakistan.  The country is bankrupt and has approached the International Monetary Fund a record 13 times for financial bailouts. War is therefore unlikely unless there is a complete mental meltdown in General Headquarters, Rawalpindi.

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