Surgical strike in Pakistan: India just announced paradigm shift in security architecture by revising its retaliation doctrine

In short, India has just blown away the nuclear threshold for conventional operations and called Pakistan's bluff on nuclear deterrence. This is the second message from the Balakot operation.

Sreemoy Talukdar February 26, 2019 17:03:52 IST
Surgical strike in Pakistan: India just announced paradigm shift in security architecture by revising its retaliation doctrine
  • By sending 12 IAF mirage jets across the LoC, where it dropped laser-guided payload on Jaish-e-Mohammad's biggest training camp, India has declared an intent in revising its retaliation doctrine

  • The significance of Balakot also lies in the fact that in 2016 the FBI had assisted NIA in cracking the Facebook chats of terrorists where Balakot’s was mentioned as a significant training camp site for Jaish-e-Mohammad

  • In short, India has just blown away the nuclear threshold for conventional operations and called Pakistan’s bluff on nuclear deterrence

Precision strikes across the Line of Control (LoC) carried out by the Indian Army’s special force post Uri terror attacks (commonly referred to as ‘surgical strikes’) expressed India’s intent that it is willing to take risks to impose some costs on Pakistan instead of getting gripped by the fear of escalation with a nuclear-armed neighbour. Successful as the covert action was in destroying some terror training camps close to the LoC in Pakistan occupied Kashmir, the strikes were aimed at mitigating the menace of terrorism, not eliminating it.

Consequently, even though the ‘surgical strikes’ imposed some costs on Pakistan, these costs were not prohibitive. The one-off operation ‑‑ audacious and efficient as it was ‑‑ did not signal any formal shifting of paradigm in Indian response to terror attacks. That no longer holds after Tuesday.

By sending 12 IAF mirage jets across the LoC – the first time India has bombed targets inside Pakistan since the 1971 war – where they dropped laser-guided payload on Jaish-e-Mohammad's biggest training camp in Balakot in Mansehra district of Pakistan's Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province, India has declared an intent in revising its retaliation doctrine.

Surgical strike in Pakistan India just announced paradigm shift in security architecture by revising its retaliation doctrine

Celebrations after India announced pre-emptive strikes were carried out in Pakistan in retaliation to Pulwama attack. PTI

Early reports indicate that the roughly 21-minute operation by 12 IAF jets (all of which returned safely) caused significant depletion of Pakistan's terror assets. The location of Indian operation demands attention. Balakot is roughly a four-hour drive from Islamabad. That Indian fighter jets could fly so deep inside Pakistani territory, complete the objective and return home before Pakistan's radar could pick and F-16s could scramble, points to the meticulousness of Indian operation and the laxity of Pakistani response.

Every facet of the Indian operation indicates that it was intelligence-backed action, which foreign secretary Vijay Gokhale has referred to as a “non-military preemptive action” that was “specifically targeted at the Jaish-e-Mohammad camp” (more on that later).

Though Gokhale did not confirm but media reports claim that along with Balakot — which housed a permanent infrastructure furnished with swimming pool and a gymnasium, according to a report in CNN-News 18 – Indian pre-dawn strikes also demolished terrorist launchpads in Chakoti, Muzaffarabad and Jaish-e-Mohammad control rooms in the area.

The foreign secretary did name Balakot during his briefing, and stated that IAF’s strikes were targeted the “biggest training camp of Jaish-e-Mohammad". The foreign secretary also added that “in this operation, a very large number of Jaish-e-Mohammad terrorists, trainers, senior commanders and groups of jihadis who were being trained for fidayeen action were eliminated. This facility at Balakot was headed by Maulana Yousuf Azhar (alias Ustad Ghouri), the brother-in-law of Jaish-e-Mohammad chief Masood Azhar.

The significance of Balakot also lies in the fact that in 2016 the US Federal Bureau of Investigation had assisted India’s National Investigation Agency in cracking the Facebook chats of terrorists where Balakot’s was mentioned as a significant training camp site for Jaish-e-Mohammad.

So what are the messages that India sent through the Balakot strike which is trending on Twitter as 'Surgical Strikes2'?

The first message is clear. This attack signals a paradigm shift in India’s security architecture. India is telling Pakistan in unambiguous terms that if Rawalpindi-bred jihadists launch terror attacks on Indian soil and target its citizens (be it civilians or security forces), India will not only cross the LoC and hit them but may use its air assets in doing so. And in order to scale up the costs on Pakistan for its use of radical and separatist elements as cannon fodder for its proxy war, India may even go deep inside Pakistani territory to operate, if needed.

In short, India has just blown away the nuclear threshold for conventional operations and called Pakistan's bluff on nuclear deterrence. This is the second message from the Balakot operation.

Firstpost piece argued that one of India’s preferred kinetic options could be to carry out a demonstrable strike that is significant and proportionate in nature with the ghastly Pulwama attacks and yet doesn’t violate Rawalpindi’s nuclear threshold. It was for India to figure out that Pakistan's real deterrence lied not in the tactical nuclear warheads but in the frequent threat over its use. Now that India has called Pakistan’s bluff, Rawalpindi must rethink its strategy of nuclear blackmail both as a cover for terrorist strikes and deterrence mechanism against Indian retaliation.

India’s third message rips apart theories about stability-instability paradox that has been used by theorists to define the India-Pakistan conflict. Taking Cold War as an example, this international relations theory holds that there is less chance of a major conflict between two nuclear powers because the Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD) concept "permits stability at higher levels of conflict".

By letting its air assets cross the LoC and drop a 1,000-kg payload inside enemy territory, India has thrown away its ‘strategic restraint’ and declared that it is not averse to taking a major action against Pakistan just because it has nuclear weapons. This not only junks the stability-instability assumption in India-Pakistan conflict but calls for a new delineation.

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