BALAKOT AND BEYOND
When the Indian Air Force (IAF) conducted an air strike at Balakot on February 26 following the Pulwama terror attack in which 40 CRPF troopers were killed, India displayed a new appetite for risk and a sharp turn in its decades-old security doctrine in dealing with Pakistan.
The air strike is all the more important given that it is the first time in 50 years the IAF has been used across the border. When India last went to war against Pakistan in 1999, former Prime Minister Atal Bihar Vajpayee had declined the Indian army’s request for crossing the Line of Control.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi who had previously ordered the surgical strikes after the Uri attack was once again under enormous public pressure to respond after Jaish-e-Muhammad (JeM) claimed responsibility for the Pulwama attack.
While Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan reiterated that his “Naya Pakistan” is not responsible for the Pulwama attack despite the JeM statement to the contrary, Modi’s decision to take action was not so much to change things in Pakistan but to show the world that it is in fact, India that has changed.
India has long told Pakistan to act against terrorists like the JeM chief Masood Azhar and the Lashkar-e-Taiba head Hafeez Saeed who have been operating with impunity within Pakistan. In 2004, the then President Pervez Musharraf too had made a public commitment that Pakistan the country would not allow its soil to be used for terrorism. But nothing came off his words.
The Pulwama attack resulted in mounting pressure from the international community on Islamabad to act on terror group on its soil. All countries spoke in unison, urging Pakistan to act against terror groups based on its soil. Backing India’s claims were Iran and Afghanistan who say Pakistan-based groups indulge in terror activities in their countries as well.
Days after Balakot, the Pakistan government issued an order to streamline a process for the implementation of sanctions against individuals and entities of all banned outfits as designated by the UN Security Council (UNSC).
The crackdown began with Pakistan detaining Mufti Abdur Rauf, the brother of JeM chief Maulana Masood Azhar, along with 43 others affiliated with proscribed Islamist organisations operating in the country.
Hammad Azhar, reportedly a close relative of Masood Azhar, was among those arrested in the crackdown. The government also froze bank accounts and assets of the organisations banned by the UNSC.
At least two seminaries and assets belonging to Hafiz Saeed's proscribed Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD) and its charity arm Falah-e-Insaniyat (FIF) were taken over by the Pakistan government.
Minister of State for Interior Shehryar Khan Afridi said in a press conference that the action was taken without any foreign pressure.
However, these actions were not met with satisfaction in India which said that if Pakistan claimed to be a "naya Pakistan with nayi soch", it should show "new action" against terror outfits operating on its soil and end cross-border terrorism in support of its assertions.
"We are seeing the same script that has been played out earlier after the terrorist attacks on our Parliament in December 2001, the Mumbai terrorist attack in November 2008 and the attack on Pathankot airbase in January 2016," Ministry of External Affairs spokesman Raveesh Kumar said.
"Pakistan claims to proscribe groups and individuals, but this is confined only on paper. Actually, terrorist groups and individuals continue their activities without hindrance.
"Pakistan has not shown any serious intent to address the legitimate concerns of India and the global community," he said.
"We remain resolute in our determination to persuade the international community of the necessity of compelling Pakistan to move beyond mere words and to show credible, verifiable and sustained actions.
"We have, and we will continue to act with responsibility and maturity. Our armed forces continue to maintain strict vigil and will remain determined in the defence of the nation and its citizens," Kumar added.
The spokesman added that Pakistan continued to live in a state of denial.
The Balakot strike has changed things in more ways than one – it has changed India’s ‘soft state’ perception, isolated Pakistan internationally and increased the popularity of Prime Minister Narendra Modi in election season.
According to the findings of CVOTER-IANS State of the Nation Opinion Poll, fifty-one per cent of the respondents interviewed on March 7 said they were very satisfied with the working of the Central government compared to 36 per cent on January 1. The net approval rating (which calculates the number of approvers minus the disapprovers) has risen to an all-time high of 62 per cent on March 7, almost doubling from 32 per cent at the start of the year.
Even though the tension between India and Pakistan deescalated soon after Balakot, analysts say the countries could be on the brink of war anytime. Terror strikes on India from Pakistan-based terror groups are unlikely to go unanswered under the Modi regime. Any skirmish between the two nuclear-armed states is foreboding.
International diplomacy can help ease tensions if Pakistan begins dealing with terrorists with a firm hand. Only a sustained diplomatic campaign against terrorism can achieve peace in the neighbourhood. India must also strengthen its security by improving counter-terrorism measures.
Balakot is a watershed moment in the history of India-Pakistan relations. One can only hope that this is a new chapter, and that history does not repeat itself.