Those who question the truth behind the Indian air force’s spectacular airstrikes on terror camps deep inside Pakistan are unable to explain why Pakistan’s reactions were filled with confusion and contradictory statements, like they were after the US raid on Abbottabad, as the sheer audacity of the Indian airstrikes had left Pakistan’s brass hats stunned. And then, why did Pakistan resort to launching an air armada a day later on Indian military positions a day later across the LOC? Either the Pakistani brass hats were responding to the wide criticism they were subjected to at home especially on social media – that they weren’t good enough to defend Pakistan – or that they were keen to draw India into war since the Pulwama attack had only led to a precisely executed airstrike.

Interestingly, it has been argued by a well informed American author that Pakistan’s armed forces wanted the return of a strong leadership (under Mr Modi?) in India, as it would allow them to drum up the fears of India’s aggressive intent, and thus control over the country’s polity and its depleted resources. But the never quite expected such an audacious attack.

Most importantly, the airstrike has blown a hole through the Pakistani article of faith, that their nuclear arsenal was a protective shield against all their adventurism on Indian soil. In the past, the reluctance in Delhi to respond with military force either after the attack on the Indian Parliament in December 2001- despite a massive military mobilization thereafter- or the attack on Mumbai in November 2008, had further emboldened Pakistan’s military to use ‘terrorism as a tool’ to bleed India endlessly. Its underlying message was: if an Indian military response did push Pakistan into a corner, then Pakistan wouldn’t hesitate to use its nuclear bombs.

However, studies and wargaming over the past decades (in think tanks abroad) have confirmed that the military brass of both India and Pakistan are most unlikely to even consider the use of their nuclear arsenal at the height of a military confrontation, as the Kargil conflict had shown. Moreover, war is a costly option, and Pakistani brass knows that the cost to them would be unbearable.

While the Kargil conflict had cost an estimated Rs 5000 crores a week, a current war would cost each side about Rs 6000 ($1 billion dollars) a day. Thus a week-long military campaign would wipe out all that there is in Pakistan’s foreign exchange reserves! For India, such a cost to finally put Pakistan’s generals out of the terror business still might just be worth it!

Also, the airstrikes on Balakot had at least two other firsts to its credit. It is perhaps the first time a nuclear-armed country has resorted to the use of airpower at targets in the territory of another nuclear-armed country. The other is the downing of a Pakistani F16 fighter jet by a vintage 1960s model MiG 21 fighter. This has stunned the West and the US arms lobbies that want to push India into a deal to buy upgraded F16s. Hence, their silence or denials about the F16 being used, by Pakistan a day after the Indian airstrikes, as a face-saving attack an Indian military brigade headquarters near the LOC.

This was achieved in all probability with accurate satellite intelligence provided to India by the Israelis. Pakistani denials and now a Chinese claim that it was their JF-17 fighter that downed the MIG-21, are both to save its face at home, and to pacify the US. which apparently needs to give permission for the use of its equipment against another US-friendly country. The question India might want to ask itself is: ‘if the US decides on who is a friend or a foe, then who all could India use the $15 billion worth of military arms and platforms against, that New Delhi has recently bought from the US?’

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Maroof Raza

Maroof Raza is a retired Indian Army officer and an author for Salute with experience in counter-insurgency operations. He is a consultant and strategic affairs expert on Times Now. Apart from his appearances on news debates, he has anchored and presented a 20 part series on the Indian armed forces, titled ‘Line of Duty’. An episode from this series, on the Siachen Glacier won an Award in the military documentary section at the Film Festival in Rome in 2005. The anchor of a strategic affairs show called Latitude and India Risk Report for the same channel.

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