by Farooq Ganderbali
Days after the terror attack on a CRPF convoy in Pulwama killed over 40 paramilitary personnel, India Tuesday conducted an air strike on a Jaish-e-Mohammad terror camp in Balakot in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa of Pakistan. In an intelligence-led operation, India struck the biggest training camp of JeM in Balakot. In this operation, a very large number of JeM terrorists, trainers, senior commanders and groups of jihadis who were being trained for fidayeen action were eliminated.
In the face of imminent danger, a pre-emptive strike became absolutely necessary for India and the IAF responded exactly how the nation wanted it to respond. The terror camp, which was hit by the IAF brave pilot, was being headed by Maulana Yosuf Azhar alias Ustad Ghouri, brother-in-law of JeM chief Maulana Masood Azhar.
It was located in thick forest on a hilltop far away from civilian area was the biggest training camp of JeM in Balakot. The non-military pre-emptive action of IAF was specifically targeted at the JeM camp. As always, the Indian armed forces made the selection of the target with an aim to avoid civilian casualties.
Post the Pulwama suicide attack, it was amply clear that New Delhi had to do something that went beyond the usual. A ground-based operation targeting terror launch pads didn’t seem particularly feasible since the Pakistanis would have been ready for that and had in any case withdrawn their ‘assets’ to the interior.
However, as has now been revealed, they congregated a sizeable number of these terrorist elements at a single location in the vicinity of Balakot in Mansehra district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, thinking they would be safe from an Indian onslaught that deep within Pakistani territory. This proved to be a mistake since precision airpower is particularly effective against concentrated targets for which timely intelligence is available, not least because it can respond at short notice.
The Balakot strike by the IAF has exposed Pakistan, thereby also demonstrating that conventional military options do indeed exist for responding to Islamabad’s ‘nuclear-derived terrorism’ strategy. The Pakistan Air Force (PAF) has clearly suffered a loss of prestige as a result of the Indian air strike.
To recover lost prestige, the Pakistani military may nevertheless precipitate minor actions in sectors where it is more confident of its posture, but it may suffer losses in trying to do so. The PAF, for one, will almost certainly lose aircraft in an in any action against India.
Of course, using terrorist proxies to target a civilian centre in the Indian hinterland is something that Pakistan is well-versed in. But a terrorist strike in a major Indian city will lead to further Indian airstrikes and once again bring the same dynamics into play that Pakistan would like to avoid. There can be no doubt that the Balakot airstrike has sent a clear message across to Islamabad (and Rawalpindi). Pakistan has been caught on the wrong foot for the first time in years.
by Farooq Ganderbali