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Pakistan terming IAF strike on Jaish terror camps on its soil a 'failure' shows its unwillingness to escalate situation

Like the dog that didn’t bark which helped Sherlock Holmes solve the mystery of the theft of the racing steed, Silver Blaze, the most interesting and encouraging thing from the point of view of stopping a potentially large scale conflict is the fact that Pakistan Air Force did not immediately respond to the Indian Air Force’s strike on the Jaish-e-Mohammad centre in Balakot to train fidayeen suicide bombers.

 Pakistan terming IAF strike on Jaish terror camps on its soil a failure shows its unwillingness to escalate situation

Mirage 2000 of the IAF. Image courtesy PIB

In his press conference, Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale made it plain that this was punitive action of a kind that Pakistan government long ago undertook to prosecute but didn’t. That India had ample cause and legal justification for taking out JeM facilities after a string of terrorist attacks it had masterminded was also made clear. The important thing to note is that a precedent has now been established for India to use the anti-terrorist rationale in the future should Pakistan continue to support JeM, Lashkar-e-Taiba and other such outfits.

What is most significant about Pakistan not reacting to IAF’s attack sortie is not that it wasn’t detected in time. Ever since the Pulwama attack, PAF bases have been on alert and ready to scramble combat aircraft. Moreover, the SILLAC (Siemens Low Level air Control System) air defence system based out of Sargodha — possibly the best air defence complex in the subcontinent, would certainly have identified an incoming aerial attack.

The fact that PAF has desisted from a counterstrike is significant and suggests that GHQ Rawalpindi thinks it will be difficult to sustain a legitimacy narrative in the face of the Indian government painting this as a purely anti-terrorist measure. They would have taken their cue from the universal condemnation of the Pulwama terror strike which in fact would have guaranteed that no country, not even its all-weather friend, China, would have thought it prudent to be seen siding with Pakistan.

That may have been Pakistan Army’s thinking from the time the JeM attack went in. How else to explain Pakistan military’s very quickly stepping on to the non-escalatory rhetoric by labeling the “preemptive” IAF action in the face of “imminent danger” from the fidayeen (as Foreign Secretary Gokhale stated), as a failure and hinting that the IAF strike force of 12 Mirage 2000 aircraft merely dropped their payload on their side of the border and scooted.

In an earlier era, in the wake of such Indian airstrike, IAF MiG-25 Foxbats would have taken off from Bareilly to do a high-altitude damage assessment flight. Now high-resolution cameras on Indian satellites would have provided reliable evidence of the attrition caused at the Pakistan end by the IAF’s precision attack on JeM personnel and training infrastructure by the time Gokhale met with the press. So the Modi regime will be satisfied with avenging the Pulwama deaths and the country’s honour being restored. Islamabad by claiming no damage was done can decide not to worsen the situation by escalating.

This is a good place for peace, however, it is maintained, in South Asia and for India and Pakistan to be in.

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Updated Date: Feb 26, 2019 15:26:57 IST