Pakistan has been trying desperately to build a convincing counter-narrative campaign for the last four years especially in the wake of the anniversary of the successful Balakot operations carried out by India. The chief motive of this campaign has been to propagate an alternate truth through fabrications and lies and masquerade Pakistani failure as success. The sense of failure among the Pakistan’s deep state on account of India’s action is so acute that there is a desperate attempt every year to regurgitate the same lies to persuade their own people to believe that it was Pakistan which successfully warded off the threat posed by India. The propaganda mills suddenly leap into action to hard-sell it to the people of Pakistan that they are safe because the army or the deep state is there to provide them with safety and security against any external aggression. In reality, however, every year on the anniversary of the Indian attack on Balakot, the people of Pakistan are made to relive the sense of scare and humiliation that they had to undergo on account of India’s conclusive action against Pakistan-sponsored terror, following the Pulwama attack on 14 February 2019.
The fact remains that on 26 February 2019, the Indian Air Force (IAF), using Mirage 2000 fighter jets, crossed the Rubicon (the LoC and the international border) and entered into Pakistani territory launching a pre-emptive strike on the Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) terror camp at Jabba Top, Balakot in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK), Pakistan, hitting the targets as planned. Twelve Mirage fighter aircrafts had taken off from multiple air bases and crossed over into the Pakistani air space and carried out missile attacks on Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) terror camp in Balakot. The attacks were carried out at 3.30 am and within a few minutes after dropping the bombs on their designated targets, the Indian Air Force planes returned safely to their bases.
These strikes were a direct response to the Pakistan-supported terror group JeM’s suicide attack on the convoy of Indian CRPF jawans at Lethopora, Pulwama near Srinagar. That India was going to respond to the terror attack was known to the Pakistani authorities. Apparently, the Pakistani security forces were on high alert. The fact that despite this, the IAF strikes went on as planned and all the planes returned to their bases safely point to complete breakdown of the alert system as well as Pakistani ability to fend off such strikes. This is a fact that the Pakistani propaganda machinery seeks to gloss over.
The Pakistani ‘militablishment’ was overtaken by surprise and shock because it had persuaded itself hard to believe that come what may, India would not cross the border/LoC. In the wake of the Kargil attack India had exercised maximum restraint. In the aftermath of the more provocative Mumbai terror attacks, too, India chose not to strike Muridke, the terror module of Lashkar-e-Taiba even in the face of clear evidence of Pakistani collusion in the act. In the face of grave provocation in the shape of the Pulwama attack, however, India chose to act. For the first time since the 1971 Indo-Pak war, India decided to cross the Line of Control (LoC) and launch an offensive attack deep inside Pakistan in the KPK province. This was intended to deliver a clear escalatory message to Pakistan that post-Pulwama-Balakot, Pakistan would have to recalibrate its strategy vis-à-vis India. It was clear that and India would henceforth hold Pakistan directly accountable for any attack by non-state actors and proxies it supports and would not hesitate to cross the LoC/border to respond to such attacks and take out the facilities run by such non-state actors, deep inside Pakistani territory.
Pakistan was, indeed, in utter shock and the political leadership was in disarray. They could hardly believe what had just happened to them. India had inflicted grave injuries and dented their military prowess with a message that India will never keep quiet with the deaths of its soldiers at the hands of Pakistan sponsored terror groups and it was well capable to retaliate with all the might it can muster. To counter this shock and humiliation, Pakistan’s military launched a perception war that India failed in its attempt because of Pakistan’s preparedness and deterring ability. Days later, when an Indian pilot was brought down, after shooting down a Pakistani F16 in a dog-fight when Pakistan had attempted to retaliate Balakot attacks two days later, Pakistan returned him, demonstrating it as an act of benevolence, while the reality was that it had to relent in the face of massive pressure from India in terms of military posturing and diplomatic pressure from the international community.
Interestingly, a year later, the Pakistani media itself ran statements by opposition leaders who confirmed that following the downing of Indian aircraft and arrest of the Indian pilot, the foreign minister of Pakistan briefed the opposition leaders in the presence of Gen Bajwa, the then army chief of Pakistan, who had sweat on his forehead and his legs were shaking, and made an entreaty to them to allow the government to release the Indian pilot, failing which India might launch an attack at 9 pm in the evening! The Pakistani response on 28 February was carefully orchestrated to offer a semblance of counter-attack while in reality Pakistan was in a de-escalation mode, projecting such tame operation as a ‘befitting’ counter to Balakot.
While messaging to the people at home and the world outside, Pakistan took care to emphasize on its act of benevolence by returning the Indian pilot while it vehemently denied the fact that he had downed a Pakistani F16! The collective amnesia runs deep in the Pakistan’s militablishment and its media cronies who seek to supplant the memory of humiliation with delusional accounts of bravado and compassion. In the meanwhile, they continue to fuel intense hatred and vitriol against India as aggressor country which is hell-bent on absorbing Pakistan.
Another important fallout of the Balakot has been the international community’s understanding of India’s response. The Pulwama attack exposed the face of sinister Pakistani strategy of using terrorism as an instrument of its foreign and security policy in general and vis-à-vis India in particular. While India decided to upscale its response beyond Uri surgical strikes, the patience of the international community was running thin as far as Pakistani sponsorship of terror was concerned not only vis-à-vis India but also against other neighbours such as Afghanistan and even Iran! Pakistan’s cries about Indian aggression fall into deaf ears as India has gone ahead with its plans to pre-empt terror strikes sponsored by Pakistan.
The success of Balakot air strikes displayed India's strong will to act against terrorism and marked a paradigm shift in India's defense policy. This was the strongest ever response by India to Pakistan sponsored terror. The IAF Ex-chief, Air Marshal BS Dhanoa, in an interview with news agency ANI, spoke candidly about the Balakot air strikes confirming that India had “learned a lot of lessons, and a lot of things have been implemented post-Balakot operations. It is a paradigm shift in the way we conduct our operations. The other side never believed that we could carry out a strike inside Pakistan to take out a terror training camps which we successfully executed. It is a paradigm shift and the result is there for you to see.”
On the 4th Balakot anniversary, it is very important to remember that Pakistan remains committed to propagating lies and fabrications, and play the victim card. There is a need therefore to retell the facts as has been the attempt in the preceding paragraphs and nail the Pakistani lies on Balakot. One wishes, rather than wasting its scarce resources on such lame propaganda, Pakistan should learn to mend its ways and its relations with India, which will help it divert its resources towards development of its people.
Syed Eesar Mehdi is Associate Research Fellow, International Centre for Peace Studies, New Delhi