Doctored video of Abhinandan exposes Pakistan's 'peace gesture'; key takeaways from the developments so far

Now that media circus has shifted to the return of Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman and tension over escalation of hostilities between India and Pakistan has subsided, it is worth taking a step back, letting the dust settle and figure out a few takeaways from a series of developments since Tuesday morning when IAF fighter jets for the first time since 1971 war crossed the Line of Control and dropped some sorties over terror facilities in Pakistan’s mainland, allegedly killing a "large number" of terrorists.

Much has already been commented on India’s redrawing of the red lines with respect to Pakistan’s nuclear deterrence. The Balakot strikes in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa — deep inside Pakistani airspace — prised open Rawalpindi’s deterrence mechanism and revealed that there is enough space for a sub-conventional war beneath the nuclear umbrella. This is an important change in India’s strategic calculus because it ends our neighbour's nuclear blackmail and opens the space for India to take penal action — even deep inside enemy territory, if needed — if Pakistan continues to wage proxy war against India.

Doctored video of Abhinandan exposes Pakistans peace gesture; key takeaways from the developments so far

IAF pilot Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman was released by Pakistan authorities at Wagah border. PTI

Aligned to this is the second takeaway that should send India to the drawing board after Pakistan raided Indian airspace and seemingly targeted Brigadier headquarters in a clear escalatory posture. Media reports say 24 Pakistani fighter jets tried to cross over in broad daylight when they were intercepted by eight IAF aircraft and in the ensuing aerial engagement, one fighter jet from each side was brought down. Wing Commander Abhinandan, on board an upgraded MiG-21 Bison, shot down a PAF F-16 before being hit. He ejected on to the Pakistan side of LoC.

The scale of Pakistan's response, and its attempt at targeting India's military installations indicate two things. One, IAF operation caused deep embarrassment for the Pakistan Army. Its retaliation was shaped by domestic pressure and the need to uphold its larger-than-life image. Two, there was an obvious attempt at restoring a degree of deterrence that had been blown apart by India's kinetic action. It was a calculated step to force New Delhi to consider the possibility of a Pakistani retaliation and scaling up of escalation ladder should India hit Pakistan again in the event of a terror strike.

Here, Pakistan made a crucial error. By targeting India’s military installation, it triggered an escalation spiral and handed the onus of retaliation and moral right back to India. Whereas India’s Balakot operation was a “non-military, preemptive strike” ostensibly in self-defence, Pakistan’s targeting of Indian military installations proved a causal link between Pakistan military and “non-state actors”. It was also a grave provocation.

Now we come to the third takeaway of the latest India-Pakistan conflict. India's thriving economy — to a large extent — and Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s proactive diplomacy — to a certain extent — have created enough power differential between India and Pakistan for the former to project during the crisis. India was also aided by a fatigue among the international community regarding Pakistan’s behavior.

Between the Balakot strikes and Wing Commander Abhinandan’s capture, the international reaction was almost unanimously in favour of India. India violated Pakistani airspace and received no censure for its action whereas Pakistan was squarely blamed for nurturing terror assets in its backyard. Even China, Pakistan’s “all-weather friend” urged “restraint” from both sides but couldn’t bring itself to criticizing India’s action.

If we look at the US reaction (at various stages, see here where NSA John Bolton backed India’s “right to self-defense” or where US Secretary of State called India’s strike a “counter-terrorism operation” and asked Pakistan to shut down terror shops), it is evident that Pakistan’s ploy of escalating the “crisis” to invite great power mediation has fallen flat.

France was particularly scathing, stating that it “recognizes India’s legitimacy in ensuring its security against cross-border terrorism and calls on Pakistan to put an end to the activities of the terrorist groups established in its territory.”

India's 'quad' partner Japan "strongly condemned" the terrorist attack on 14 February 2019 for which the Islamic extremist group Jaish-e-Mohammad claimed responsibility… and urged "Pakistan to take stronger measures to counter terrorism.

Australia, the other 'quad' nation, came out swinging against Pakistan, insisting that "Pakistan must take urgent and meaningful action against terrorist groups in its territory, including Jaish-e-Mohammed which has claimed responsibility for the 14 February bombing, and Lashkar-e-Taiba…" and "must do everything possible to implement its own proscription of Jaish-e-Mohammed. It can no longer allow extremist groups the legal and physical space to operate from its territory."

Even the UN Security Council departed from its homeopathic statements and handed Pakistan a strong rebuke and "urged all States (read China), in accordance with their obligations under international law and relevant Security Council resolutions, to cooperate actively with the Government of India and all other relevant authorities in this regard."

Statements from the European Union or the Diplomatic Corps reinforced India’s right to self-defence.

The real diplomatic victory for India, however, was the way in which Arab nations — that share deep historical, theological and familial bond with Pakistan — impressed upon Islamabad not to escalate the crisis and almost forced its hand to release Wing Commander Abhinandan without a fuss. Once Pakistan had made the capture of Wing Commander Abhinandan public it couldn’t have kept him in custody for too long, but the speed with which the IAF pilot was released has a lot to with backroom negotiations by the US, UAE and Saudi Arabia.

UAE Crown Prince Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed’s post on Twitter where he referred to the “telephone calls to the Indian and Pakistani Prime Ministers”, stressing the “importance of dealing wisely with recent developments and giving priority to dialogue and communication” was ample indication of the effort being put in. Similarly, Saudi Arabia announced that it was sending an emissary to Islamabad with “important message from the Crown Prince, MBS” who recently concluded a tour of south Asia.

While it is true that UAE and Saudi positions reflect India’s economic muscle, the size of its market, Arab investments in India and energy security, it is equally true that Modi’s foreign policy endeavours have revamped India’s relationship with key players in West Asia, some of who are sworn adversaries.

National University of Singapore director C Raja Mohan writes in The Indian Express: "The increasingly productive nature of this engagement comes from an unprecedented level of personal political comfort between Modi and the key leaders of the Arab world. It is also rooted in the shared interest between India and the Arab conservatives in blunting the edge of religious extremism and terrorism."

The fourth takeaway is the way in which Wing Commander Abhinandan’s ejection and landing in PoK played out during the conflict. Pakistan’s targeting of Indian military installations would have left India with no other option but to retaliate since it constitutes an "act of war" (remember India’s operation was “non-military” and “preemptive”). But Islamabad got an exit route through the captured IAF pilot and used him as a leverage to eke out a face-saver. That, along with the pressure brought to bear upon it by the US, UAE and Saudi Arabia is the real reason why Imran Khan appeared as a “peace emissary”.

The fifth and final takeaway is India’s capacity for limitless gullibility when it comes to Pakistan, matched only by Rawalpindi’s bottomless perfidy. A section of Indians made a virtue out Imran Khan’s necessity in releasing WC Abhinandan and all but recommended ‘Taliban Khan’ for the Nobel peace prize. It only took a day for Imran’s mask to slip off, revealing him as the true leader of a manipulative nation.

Pakistan’s “goodwill gesture” in releasing WC Abhinandan apparently included forcing the PoW to utter words under duress and releasing a heavily doctored video where he is forced to praise his captors and slam the media of his motherland.

The duress was so blatant and obvious that it raised questions on whether the Pakistani “deep state” was undercutting Imran’s move to release the IAF pilot. It is not surprising that Pakistan would do such a thing. It has shown itself to be a blackmailing and manipulative nation repeatedly in the past. The egg is on the faces of those Indians who had made a Mahatma out of Imran Khan.

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Updated Date: Mar 02, 2019 08:37:52 IST

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