Balakot air strikes: India upheld sanctity of LoC by targeting JeM; Pak retaliation will cast doubts about anti-terror effort

Should Pakistan resolve to seek revenge for the Indian Air Force operation, then its commitment to maintaining peace in the subcontinent will be in more doubt than usual.

Pallavi Rebbapragada February 27, 2019 12:38:34 IST
Balakot air strikes: India upheld sanctity of LoC by targeting JeM; Pak retaliation will cast doubts about anti-terror effort
  • Vajpayee had issued a diktat to maintain the sanctity of the Line of Control after a India-Pakistan Composite Dialogue in 2004

  • Since then, Pakistan has betrayed the 2004 dialogue time and again

  • As far as the army and civilians of Pakistan are concerned, India has maintained the sanctity of the LoC

The India-Pakistan Composite Dialogue, born out of the 6 January, 2004, joint statement by Atal Bihari Vajpayee and General Pervez Musharraf, set the ball rolling for the foreign secretaries of both States to frame an eight-point agenda the next month. Pakistan's capability to combat terrorism was a cornerstone of this composite dialogue, as enshrined in the joint statement. Vajpayee had agreed to participate in the dialogue only after Musharraf had reassured him that he will not permit any territory under Pakistan's control to be used to support terrorism in any manner.

Since then, Pakistan has betrayed the 2004 dialogue time and again. Unfortunately, the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance attached no special relevance to the document, and in its decade-long rule, Pakistan's well-advertised image of a terror victim shrouded its home-grown terror crisis with instances of cross-border terror, while the eyes of a politically-unwilling India remained blind.

Balakot air strikes India upheld sanctity of LoC by targeting JeM Pak retaliation will cast doubts about antiterror effort

Representational image. Reuters

But Modi's India is handling matters differently. Vajpayee had issued a diktat to maintain the sanctity of the Line of Control (LoC).

When the Kargil War was at its peak in 1999, an Indian Air Force fighter pilot had mistakenly set its sights on a Pakistani military base and was ready to bomb it, but his seniors had pulled him back and taken a strict view of the inadvertent transgression into Pakistani airspace. The law of the land was: if they cross it, we will push them back.

When the Indian Army had carried out the surgical strikes in 2016, the Central government had acknowledged that it had crossed the border and hit its targets. But the line they had taken then was clear — India had attacked those who had attacked it, not the Pakistan Army or its civilians. And as per the 2004 agreement, these were the groups that Pakistan had committed to neutralise.

During the Kargil War, it was units of the Pakistan Army masquerading as mujahideens that had occupied positions on the Indian side of the LoC. Vajpayee had then directed the Indian armed forces to evict them but with a caveat that the sanctity of the LoC not be violated. This had made the task difficult for the army and the Indian Air Force and resulted in additional casualties, but both forces had complied.

The Kargil War was, hence, a localised conflict of the conventional military 'force-on-force' nature. But that was 1999. Today, 20 years after Kargil, Pakistan has groomed groups such as the Jaish-e-Mohammed, Lashkar-e-Taiba and Hizbul Mujahideen to give in-depth effect to its plans on the Indian side without deploying its own forces. But the Pakistan Army's Border Action Teams also make incursions but not deep inside Indian territory.

The surgical strikes of September 2016 was the first time Indian forces crossed the LoC to conduct operations. The principle adopted then was that the mission was not against Pakistan or its army but against the groups perpetuating terrorist strikes in India.

The same principle underlies the air strikes carried out by the Indian Air Force in Pakistan's Balakot, which the Ministry of External Affairs asserted as a "pre-emptive, non-military" strike, segregating the State of Pakistan from the activities of the terrorist groups, a fig leaf for the Pakistani establishment.

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It wouldn't be right to say that Indian forces or its leadership were hesitant before the Kargil operation. There was a gross intelligence failure because of which the Indian side underestimated the strength of enemy forces and the extent of transgression.

The army and air force chiefs had had a rather well-known dispute over the deployment of the IAF to support ground forces. The air force's concerns were accuracy, vulnerability at low altitudes and inadvertent casualties on the Indian side. They were not wrong though, as their contributions were effective eventually.

General Malik, who was both the Chief of Army Staff and chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee, was in Poland on an official visit when India realised the full extent of transgression of the LoC. He took charge and led an effective coordinated action, immortalising the line "we will fight with what we haven't" in the history of the Indian Army.

Diplomatic relations with Pakistan have evolved since the Kargil War, now demanding new kinds of reactions from India. The military objectives and the desired end are both different.

Unlike conventional force-on-force, we are in the era of technology where asymmetrical warfare is used to bust terror modules. The military is not contesting another military on the border, and India has not aimed to attack the Pakistan Army, it has only attempted to neutralise terror outfits. So be it 2016 or today, India has still maintained the sanctity of the LoC as far as the army and civilians of Pakistan are concerned.

The days of the Gujral Doctrine — believed to have brought substantial changes to India's policy on bilateral relations with its immediate neighbours — are behind us, and India is no longer a big benign brother. Should Pakistan resolve to seek revenge for the IAF operation, then its commitment to maintaining peace in the subcontinent will be in more doubt than usual.

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