I was travelling when I heard the news of the Pulwama attack and was highly saddened with the killing of 40 Indian soldiers and the political reactions afterwards. The Indian government should have reacted swiftly rather than waiting for several days. However, India did act and act rightly by striking at Balakot. Sadly, what followed the air strike shows immaturity on the part of the politicians. First, there was a needless applauding of the action and political rhetoric, especially by the Opposition, primarily Congress leaders, who got worried about a possible victory of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the forthcoming Parliament elections.
The first question should be why this attack took place. India is well aware of Masood Azhar’s role and continued radicalisation of Muslim youths. Primarily due to the fear of alienating the Muslim population, a number of Indian governments did not take strong measures to clamp down on hardcore radicals in Kashmir. Second, the continued failure of Indian intelligence and counteri-ntelligence has not been able to avert terrorist attacks on the Indian army. A lot can be written about the clumsy functioning and failures of Indian intelligence agencies. The most glaring examples are attacks on the Pathankot Air Base and the two Army Bases one after another. To date, it has not been found how the armed terrorists were able to enter the bases and carry out the killings for hours at the Pathankot Air Force base and almost two days at the Uri Army Base. The United States and Israel are the biggest targets of a number of domestic and international terrorist groups; however, these groups have been able to carry out very few attacks because of the well organised and functioning intelligence agencies.
Despite a number of terrorist attacks, India’s preparedness for a swift military action has been missing. However, India did take a rare action and conducted a daring air strike at Balakot. This was the first air strike after 1971 war. First, Pakistan denied such a strike; then it acknowledged such a strike, but stated that Indian bombs hit a totally uninhabited site and did not cause any damage. If India was to only drop the bombs without causing any damage, why would India take the trouble of taking a risk of flying deep into Pakistan; it could have hit a no-man’s land close to the border with a lot less risk. The Congress and some other leaders have been asking for proof of a strike and the number of casualties caused by the strike. I do not agree with some of the BJP leaders alleging that anyone asking such questions is a traitor. In a democratic country, everyone has a right to ask questions without fear. The answers to such questions are given below.
As stated above, Pakistan itself has acknowledged the air strike. In the 27 February 2019 issue of US-based Foreign Policy magazine, the following news appeared, “The Indian Air Force on Tuesday launched airstrikes inside Pakistan for the first time in nearly five decades, targeting a Jaish-e-Mohammed training camp inside Pakistani territory. Jaish-e-Mohammed claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing attack in India-controlled Kashmir on 14 February that killed more than 40 Indian security officers.”
The number of casualties is not a meaningful question. Again, as stated above, the purpose of a strike was to demonstrate that India could no more limit simply to a strong rhetoric if Pakistan assisted terrorists attack Indian targets, but to show that India has the capability which it will use to strike deep into Pakistan. If a greater number of casualties is a criterion of a successful strike, then the Indian Air Force plane could have attacked well populated areas as has been done sometimes by U.S. strikes in Afghanistan and Israel strikes in Middle East.
Statements by some politicians that India took the action to win the election. The government function is to act militarily, politically and economically needed in the nation’s interest when such action is warranted. Any good action by the ruling party does help it to win election. It would have been against the national interest if the government did not take the action which it appropriately did. In fact, the government should have acted right after the Pulwama attack and should have taken more actions after the air strike. I have proposed a number of low risk or no risk options to the PMO and the government may take another action in the near future. Did the Opposition parties want India to sit quietly after the Pulwama attack and wait after the elections were over? As a better alternative, Opposition leaders could have requested terrorists to attack the Army after the election. Frankly, in the country’s interest, hopefully, a strong and stable government is formed after the election rather than a government by a hodge-podge coalition run by a number of regional war lords and as Jaitley said war lords will bring chaos in India.
I get dismayed when even some retired military officers state that “a war is not an option”. Ruling out such an option is a very naive and a dangerous idea for India. If war is not an option, what is the use of having a large army? Is it just to participate in the Republic Day parade? Sometimes, war is the only option as Lal Bahadur Shastri, Indira Gandhi and Vajpayee realised in the case of Kargil. Before starting wars, these three Prime Ministers tried all diplomatic means including Indira Gandhi visiting the USA. In case of Pakistan’s assisted terrorist attacks, India has tried diplomatic solutions without much success. Even the so-called war hungry Narendra Modi tried diplomatic solutions to the maximum extent possible. First, he invited Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to his swearing-in ceremony. Then in Russia, he had a very long discussion with then Prime Minister Sharif. On his way back from the Paris Summit, he stopped in Lahore, attended Sharif’s family marriage and had a good discussion with him. Every time, his gesture was followed by an attack at an Indian army base.
Those opposed to war are fearful of an all-out war, including a nuclear war. India is very strong, militarily and economically, whereas Pakistan is at the brink of bankruptcy. Pakistan cannot afford a war economically and will not dare to go to a full war. Still its rulers and generals are sane not to start a nuclear war. Should India stop the peace process? The answer is no. I am sure that India will try the peace process again. I am a firm believer that there should be and can be a peaceful relationship between the two countries and I have been trying to have a good relationship between the two countries for a number of years. In 2014, I visited Pakistan and as described above, Modi made sincere efforts since he became Prime Minister. During my 2014 visit, I briefly met Imran Khan too. After his election, my article, “India should invite Imran Khan” appeared in the 28 July 2018 issue of The Sunday Guardian. Prime Minister Modi also welcomed Khan’s election victory. However, the peace process went sour again as two police officers were beheaded in Kashmir and Khan started talking about the freedom of Kashmir without condemning the beheading. I was planning to visit Pakistan, however, after Pulwama, I decided not to go as I could not even think of shaking hands (I have visited a number of countries and I do not hug politicians, even Indian politicians) and exchanging pleasantries with Pakistani political and military leaders at this time. How could I insult the 40 jawans and their families?
If Pakistan wants peace, it has to forget Kashmir and stop supporting terrorist activities in India. These activities do not help Kashmiris and their alleged freedom. Pakistan’s focus on Kashmir has bled Pakistan’s economy more than that of India. While India has become a world economic power, Pakistan is on the brink of bankruptcy. Its economy is weaker than even that of Bangladesh and Nepal. Pakistan has been diplomatically isolated to the extent that no Pakistani diplomat can travel more than 25 miles from Washington, D.C. When Pakistan raises the issue of Kashmir, no one, except India, listens to it. India should also ignore Pakistan’s rhetoric about Kashmir. Kashmir has not gone anywhere and will stay with India.
Both Nawaz Sharif and Imran Khan correctly stated, “Tractors not tanks bring prosperity”. Let Pakistan start this policy and India sure will follow it. At the border, instead of showing guns and kicking high in the air, let both countries show and exchange tractors and agricultural knowledge and then share the fruit of hard work. I hope to see this cooperation in my lifetime. Of course, cricket matches and movie stars will also follow the peace.
Jitendra K. Tuli was an advisor to former Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee.