India and Pakistan; the Fog of War

On the 14th of February 40 Indian paramilitary soldiers were killed when a convoy of the Indian Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) was attacked in Pulwama (Indian Kashmir) by a vehicle borne suicide bomber. The attack was immediately claimed by a Pakistan-based terrorist organization called the Jaish e Mohammed (JEM, the army of Mohammed), who released a video of the suicide bomber, a local lad from southern Kashmir. JEM is led by a Pakistani cleric named Masood Azhar who had been captured by Indian security forces in the 90s in Indian Kashmir, but was released in exchange for the hostages on board an Indian airlines aircraft in December 1999. After his release he went to Pakistan and set up his Jihadist terrorist organization and has operated openly in the country ever since.

This is, of course, not the first major terrorist attack in India to be claimed by an organization based in Pakistan. JEM has been accused in the past of organizing an attack on the Indian parliament as well as many attacks in Indian Kashmir. And the biggest attack ever launched in India by Pakistani-based terrorists was the attack on Mumbai in November 2008, in the course of which ten terrorists wreaked havoc in the city of Mumbai and killed at least 165 people, including a few Israelis and Americans. Some of the more prominent attacks were followed by Indian threats of military action against Pakistan but in the end the Indian establishment opted on all of those occasions to try and isolate Pakistan diplomatically but stepped back from direct military action. This option was chosen not because of any residual Gandhian hangover in India but because of two interlocking factors:

1.  Pakistan and India are nuclear-armed nations with large and capable military forces and the risks of war were considered greater than any possible benefits that military action could bring to India.

2. Foreign powers (particularly the United States, the sole superpower in that era) pressed India to eschew military action to avoid the risk of nuclear war (and perhaps because they had interests in Pakistan that they did not want compromised). In exchange, they promised to press Pakistan to rein in these terrorist organizations and to support India (to whatever extent) in its diplomatic efforts to isolate Pakistan.  Their pressure did lead Pakistan to scale down the recruitment and launching of terrorists into Indian Kashmir (and since 2008, to avoid any major attacks within India).

Clearly the Indian establishment felt this prudent course of action was correct because the Indian economy was outperforming Pakistan and they felt that time is on the Indian side, so the risks of war (and of course, the risk of nuclear war) were too great. The calculation seems to have been that over time India would become so much stronger than Pakistan that it could dictate terms to it, while the relative breathing space created by the slowing down of terrorist activity in Kashmir would give them an opportunity to win over the Kashmiri Muslim population (or at least, to force then to accept that the separatist/Pakistani cause is hopeless). This calculation seemed to be working for a period of time, with violence decreasing in Kashmir and the Indian economy growing at twice the rate of Pakistan’s economy. At the same time the obvious benefits of trade and normal relations with Pakistan also appeared within reach. But in the last few years the hope of “winning Kashmiri hearts and minds” seemed to flounder (how much of that is the fault of the Right Wing BJP government in India is one of those things about which opposing camps have completely divergent views) and in the last 1-2 years the level of terrorist violence in Kashmir also started to tick upwards. In 2016 there was a major guerrilla attack at Uri in Indian Kashmir and this time the Indian government conducted what it claimed were “surgical strikes” against “terrorist launch pads” in Pakistani Kashmir. The scale of this attack is a matter of dispute, with Pakistan claiming that no major action took place and India claiming that a significant commando operation was conducted (there is even a Bollywood movie about the event). In any case, the aim of the “surgical strike” was to create a new “red line”: that any major terrorist attack in Kashmir would lead to an Indian military response. Equally clearly, Pakistan insisted that no significant attack had taken place and no new red line had therefore been created. Meanwhile India is going to go to the polls in 2 months and the BJP recently lost elections in some state elections, raising the possibility that their government may be headed for defeat in the National elections as well.

In this context, the attack in Pulwama triggered a very intense bout of Nationalist fervor and calls for revenge, especially on the Indian Right.There has always been a constituency within the Indian political spectrum that felt that India had been too “soft” on Pakistan. This faction holds that any “self-respecting power” would have responded militarily against Pakistan a long time ago. Their view is that it is impossible to imagine that Mexico could be openly hosting multiple terrorist organizations dedicated to snatching the Southwest United States and carrying out multiple attacks within the United States. The first such attack would be followed by a non-negotiable demand that all the perpetrators and their handlers be handed over to the United States, and failure to comply with this demand would lead to military action against Mexico. Even Right Wing Indians are aware that India is not the United States and Pakistan is not Mexico, but the point still stands; no country capable of a military response would have failed to respond after an event like the Mumbai attack. The fact that India is “capable of a military response” is taken for granted by these people. In the aftermath of the Pulwama attack, this view was promoted practically across the entire Indian political spectrum (with elections coming up, no party wanted to be labeled as “soft on terrorism”). The Modi government in any case took this stance and made it clear that a military response would be forthcoming.

On the 26th of February this response came in the form of an air attack on what the Indians described as a major terrorist training camp in Balakot, Pakistan. Or did it? This is where the fog of war comes in; everything about this attack and its aftermath remains shrouded in confusion:

  1. Balakot airstrike. We know for sure that some Indian bombs fell around a hilltop near Balakot in KPK province in Pakistan. This is very significant because Balakot is not in the disputed region of Kashmir, it is unambiguously in Pakistan itself. The Indians claim that bombs hit a terrorist training camp and killed dozens of terrorists (anonymous”sources” were used to inform Indian media that 300 terrorists had been killed, but this was not the official claim, which was relatively circumspect). Pakistan claims that the bombs fell harmlessly on a hillside and only killed a few trees. India claimed that their planes crossed into Pakistani territory to conduct this raid. Pakistan seemed to confirm this initially, but is now happy to say that they did not cross far and maybe did not cross the “line of control” (LOC) in Kashmir at all. Pakistan is now conducting journalists to the site and showing them craters in the forest. India insists they have proof that several terrorist barracks were hit. Some local did report seeing ambulances in the area, but by now such testimony has disappeared and if past events are any guide, will not reappear. 

Current status of outsider knowledge: India bombed something in Balakot for sure. Indian planes probably crossed some distance into Pakistani Kashmir to conduct this strike. It is likely that some people were killed on the ground, but numbers are likely small. Everything else is disputed.

2. Pakistan counter-strike On February 27th Pakistan claimed that its aircraft had carried out retaliatory air strikes across the LOC, targeting “non-military, non-populated targets”.  Pakistan claims that Indian planes that came to challenge this intrusion were then engaged by Pakistani aircraft and 2 Indian aircraft were shot down. One Indian pilot was captured alive. 2 more were said to have landed in Pakistani Kashmir, but a few hours later these other pilots disappeared from the story. Meanwhile India claims that the IAF intercepted Pakistani planes trying to attack across the LOC and chased them back over the LOC. They claim that an IAF MiG 21 then shot down a Pakistani F-16 before being shot down itself. Pakistan denies that any Pakistani plane was hit. No one has been shown the wreckage of the second plane and no one seems to know what happened to the other pilots reported as having bailed out.

Current status of outsider knowledge: An Indian MiG 21 was certainly shot down and the pilot captured, no one disputes that. A second plane may have gone down. That second plane may even be Pakistani. But nobody knows for sure.

3. Pilot Released. On March 1st, Pakistan released the Indian pilot without any preconditions. This was portrayed in Pakistan as a gesture of peace. It has been portrayed elsewhere as the result of pressure being placed on Pakistan by the US, Saudi Arabia and UAE.

Current status of outsider knowledge: The Indian pilot was released very quickly. Who put pressure and how is not for us to know.

4. LOC Shelling. Both India and Pakistan are shelling each other across the LOC in Kashmir as we speak. Both claim to be responding to aggression from the other side.
Current status of outsider knowledge: Clashes are going on across the LOC. It is impossible to say who started it. If past history is any guide, this confrontation will continue for a few days but there will be no change in the ceasefire line and eventually both sides will tire of pointless exchanges of fire and will stop, till the next time.

So who won? and is it over? 

  1. The strategic balance; India has shifted the strategic calculus decisively with its airstrike in Balakot. It has shown willingness to use force in Pakistan, in spite of nuclear deterrence. The next time there is a terrorist attack in India that can be traced to Pakistan-based Jihadist organizations, India will respond militarily.  This is a big change from the status quo ante. And all Pakistani claims about confidence in their armed forces notwithstanding, Pakistan cannot actually sustain such a confrontation for too long.
  2. The battle of perceptions: the score here is tied. Initially, when Indian conducted an airstrike and none of its planes was shot down, the PR battle was clearly in India’s favor. There were celebrations all across India and there was significant depression in Pakistan. But the next day Pakistan launched a counter-strike and managed to shoot down at least one Indian MiG and capture the pilot. This was enough to shift the perception within Pakistan completely and decisively. Any pressure that the Pakistani army may have felt domestically has been completely relieved. On day 2 the Indian domestic audience was clearly depressed and confused, but the rapid release of their pilot (and his generally dignified performance, including attempts to escape capture and destroy documents when surrounded by locals) seems to have allowed the Modi government to regain its balance. It is my impression that perceptions within India are currently generally positive about the Balakot airstrike and most people have accepted the govt’s claim that a Pakistani F-16 was shot down (changing the perceptions of the February 27 dogfight to a “win”, since an ancient MiG 21 shot down a superior F-16).   “India has struck back against terror at last” and that sort of thing seems to dominate the Indian media at this time.  But elections are coming up and it is not possible that opposition parties will allow this “win” to remain undisturbed. Questions about the effectiveness of the initial airstrike and even about the F-16 shoot-down are likely to come up. Domestic Indian opinion may not remain uniformly pro-Modi, though my guess is that the episode may remain a net positive for him. Outside of India the situation is more complicated. Islamist militants do not have a good reputation in the world at large, so most outsiders are primed to side with India on that account. But the BJP government is not popular with elite liberal opinion and this encourages greater skepticism and questioning in the foreign media. In addition, India’s apparent inability to provide incontrovertible proof of either the effectiveness of the bombing or the purported shooting down of a PAF F-16 is bound to raise questions. Overall, the battle of perceptions may be tied in the outside world, but only because Jihad is unpopular. Otherwise the Indian performance is not seen as something to write home about.
  3. Diplomatically Pakistan has suffered a setback. Pakistani territory was violated by an Indian airstrike and none of its friends took a stand against this intrusion. Even China offered up a vague statement asking “both sides” to exercise restraint. The reason is not hard to see. Jihadi terrorism is a threat to most countries (including most Muslim countries; the sole exception may be Turkey) and whatever their feelings about the Kashmiri people or the integrity of Pakistan, they are not happy with the fact that Pakistan still hosts several such organizations. This is not a new problem for Pakistan, but this episode does not bring any relief in this domain.

So What Happens Next?

Best case scenario: Pakistan (ie the military regime, not just their civilian face in the person of Imran Khan) recognizes that while they have been lucky this time (thanks to the IAF sending up a primitive MiG against superior Pakistani aircraft), continued hosting of Jihadist terrorist organizations is not a winning strategy. Future attacks in India will undoubtedly lead to renewed Indian coercive action and while the military balance is not as one-sided as many outsiders (and most Indians) imagine, India can sustain this sort of thing much longer than Pakistan can. Pakistan is almost bankrupt and its closest friends (China, Saudi Arabia, UAE, etc)  are not eager to support any Islamist adventurism. Therefore Pakistan will crack down on these organizations for real this time. This leads to reduced tensions with India. After the Indian elections the new Indian govt (whether BJP or not) sees these actions and dials down their rhetoric. Negotiations reopen and both countries agree to make peace on existing borders, with some minor concessions to satisfy the aspirations of Kashmiri Muslims. This is the best case scenario because peace in the subcontinent means a better life for 1.5 billion people and a new economic powerhouse in the world, extending from Burma to Central Asia. This is also an unlikely scenario. Pakistan has just defeated the US in Afghanistan. Its Islamist proxies have powerful nuisance value and the ruling elite sells themselves to various powers as managers of this threat. They are not exactly in the mood to change this too completely. 

2. MIddling scenario. Pakistan army takes some actions to tone down but not eliminate Islamist militants. India feels that it is in no position to coerce Pakistan more than that without fighting a potentially disastrous war. Peace does not break out, but the status quo ante is more or less restored. Talk-talk with occasional flare-ups continues. India hopes this will change once they are far more economically developed. Pakistan hopes that things will fall apart in India while China will emerge as the world’s leading superpower and as our patron will be able to provide us with an edge over India. In fact, the gap between India and Pakistan will slowly increase in India’s favor, but slowly. No big change may happen for several years. This is possible, but this too is not the most likely scenario. 

3. Most likely scenario: Pakistan gets carried away with celebrating what is at best a minor tactical victory in the air war in Kashmir. Jihadi militants continue to operate. Meanwhile India is distracted by elections. In the midst of this there is another major terrorist attack in Kashmir. India then surprises Pakistan with larger scale military retaliation. Pakistan retaliates. Then finds itself trapped in a long standoff which it cannot sustain. Shit happens but nuclear confrontation is avoided. Pakistan is forced to undertake steps it should have taken voluntarily much earlier. Everyone suffers, but India eventually comes out on top. Just barely.

4. Worst case scenario. A major terrorist attack is followed by larger Indian retaliation. Pakistan retaliates in force. This lead to full scale war and eventually to nuclear war. Shit happens on a grand scale.

What do you think?

Our podcast on this topic:

and a pretty balanced Indian view:

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49 Replies to “India and Pakistan; the Fog of War”

  1. Air Marshal Hari Kumar , who directed the air force strikes retired just in time the fracas got messier.

    Pakistani media claimed he was sacked by GoI , while Indian sources denied it

    https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/nobody-wants-war-but-neither-can-we-tolerate-terrorism-air-marshal-hari-kumar/article26420198.ece?utm_source=email&utm_medium=Email&utm_campaign=Newsletter

    https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/news/fake-alert-no-pakistan-western-command-air-marshal-hari-kumar-was-not-sacked/articleshow/68229738.cms

    A government should sack even it’s top army/airforce/navy officers when there is a poor planning and poor preparations or dereliction of duty . In worst cases , they should even face court martial and be shot. Not only sacking of top people should be resorted to , the government must be open about and make no bones about. That will motivate top people to be more vigilant and deliver goods expected of them

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  2. So long as India does not win the hearts and minds battle in Kashmir, bombing terror camps in pakistan has no real effect on terror. The americans bombed pakistani terror camps with drones for nearly a decade and that did not help them finish off the insurgency in Afghanistan in any way in fact it fuelled more hatred against their presence there.

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    1. India has to realize that the insurgency in Kashmir has local roots and that people in the Valley are deeply alienated from the State. Lack of engagement on the political issue is not going to help.

      This doesn’t in any way excuse Pakistan’s use of proxies. But an outside power can only fan the flames of a situation when there is a pre-existing problem.

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      1. “India has to realize that the insurgency in Kashmir has local roots and that people in the Valley are deeply alienated from the State. Lack of engagement on the political issue is not going to help.”

        India has always recognized the Kashmir insurgency has local roots and this has informed the Indian state’s efforts since 1989. The disagreement with Pakistan is regarding degree. Agree the Modi government has been amateurish, ideological and incompetent in its approach to Kashmir, but this has been an exception than the norm in the many decades of this insurgency.

        I think the only absent realization in the Kashmir issue has been on the side of PakMil and subsidiary separatists on the resolve of the Indian state to hold on to Kashmir despite any short, medium or even long-term pain inflicted on it. There is only one solution to the Kashmir issue and everyone knows it. As decades pass, there will be other alternatives but those will not open up in the direction PakMil wishes it does.

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        1. It is not about Pakistan or India but about what the Kashmiri people want. Kashmir is their land.

          In the end, you will have to negotiate with those who favor freedom from India. Some kind of autonomy will be have to be given. Ignoring the root cause of the conflict and repressing the people is not a viable solution.

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          1. “It is not about Pakistan or India but about what the Kashmiri people want. Kashmir is their land.”

            Do the Kashmiri people, in your view, include the Hindus who were driven out of the valley by Islamists and their sympathizers? Should they be part of the negotiations with the Kashmiri people?

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          2. This is a complex topic and I will list my thoughts:
            1/ Right now, a majority of Muslim inhabitants of J&K likely want secession from India. Almost none of the Hindus or Buddhists do.
            2/ This was not always the case. There were interludes when Kashmiris were pro-India, when India could have conducted a plebiscite and won. Except the UN mandated pre-conditions were not met from the Pakistan side. The current sentiment is a snapshot and not a constant.
            3/ The majority likely want an independent state, not accession to Pakistan.
            4/ Such a state is nonviable in every sense of the word.
            5/ The secessionist movement in Kashmir is a majoritarian-Islamist movement with significant anti-minority elements as evidenced by its actions and vocabulary over the decades, instigated and aided significantly by PakMil. It is not a movement aiming for increased representation or social liberties.
            6/ If such an Islamist state comes into existence, the repression and persecution of religious/ ethnic minorities will without doubt exceed by order(s) of magnitude what Kashmiri separatists currently accuse the Indian state.
            7/ Indian army and the Indian state have been ham handed on several occasions in Kashmir, but these do not match the brutality PakMil has shown in East Bengal or Balochistan.
            8/ In fact, the Indian state has been remarkably liberal in politico-economic terms to Kashmir and to Kashmiris across India over the decades- this is a key accusation Savarkarite nationalists make against earlier Indian governments.
            9/ I doubt any other country would have been as cognizant as India of democratic ideals in dealing with this secessionist minority- not Pakistan, not Israel and definitely not PakMil’s BFF, China.
            10/ Secession of Kashmir will make things much worse for Muslims in India, and not make it better for Muslims in Kashmir. Exactly like Partition 1.0.
            11/ India will not cede territory in Kashmir and the options for PakMil will only shrink over the years. Their best shot at it is now, to get LOC as an IB.

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          3. Curious,

            The Kashmiri Pandits are very much part of the Kashmiri people and as such are stakeholders in the conflict. Their ethnic cleansing from the Valley was indenfensible. Unfortunately, they were seen by many people as agents of the Indian State and as undermining the freedom struggle. Some sort of solution needs to be found that is acceptable to the entire Kashmiri people on both sides of the LOC. Perhaps autonomy for the Valley within the Indian Constitution and soft borders with Azad Kashmir.

            The tragedy of the Kashmiri Pandits cannot be used to deny the legitimate grievances of the majority community in Kashmir–Kashmiri Muslims.

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          4. Parallel Universe,
            The Kashmir Conflict dates back to 1947 and not to 1989. The freedom movement was not always “Islamist” in character. There was a time when Kashmiris would probably have been satisfied with the autonomy granted them by Article 370. However, the Indian State whittled down this autonomy so that it is now almost meaningless. Sheikh Abdullah was jailed. Elections were rigged. These actions led to the alienation, which Pakistan was able to exploit. The Indian Army and paramilitaries have committed many atrocities on Kashmiris over the past three decades. Gawkadal is only one example.

            It is true that the Hindu and Buddhist communities are not part of the movement. Some solution can be found that takes everyone’s interests into account. Jammu and Ladakh can remain with India while the Valley can become autonomous. The status quo is not sustainable.

            Frankly, it is not the concern of Kashmiris what impact their independence will have on Muslims in India proper. Kashmir is a Disputed Territory and a special case in that Kashmiris were promised a plebiscite.

            I agree that the borders are not likely to change. India will not get Azad Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan. Pakistan will not get the Valley. However, some creative solution can be found such as autonomy for the Valley within the Indian Constitution and soft borders with Azad Kashmir.

            The bottom line is that even if Pakistan were to give up its claim on Indian-held Kashmir, Delhi would still have a problem in Srinagar. The only way to resolve this is through a negotiated political solution.

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    2. Tavarish, bombing inside Pakistan is very very popular among Afghans.

      The US did not strike the vast majority of Pakistani targets the Afghans wanted hit. And the US yelled at the Afghans every time the Afghans tried to strike across the Durand line on their own.

      If there had been major attacks on Pakistani soil, the Taliban would have been significantly degraded. It is probable that the Pakistani army would have stopped trying to overthrow GIRoA.

      Most of the ANSF killed in combat are killed by Pakistani Army proxies. These things are complex.

      Wars are greatly influenced by combat enablers and logistics. The Taliban would dissintigrate if the pak army stopped backing them.

      It is also true that Afghans associated with the Taliban have some respect and even affection for the Afghan Army.

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  3. Not particularly interested in prosecuting the ongoing rhetoric about “who won” this round.
    The main faultline between Pakistani and Indian perception is about how each side views (or talks about) the terrorist action that killed Indian security personnel. This came up on these comment pages and was then dismissed by someone on the ‘Pakistani side’ as just deserts for India’s policies in Indian Kashmir.
    Pakistan has seen much domestic unrest over various things in the last two decades and there have been public displays of disaffection against the government but none of these has ever been about Pakistan’s support to domestic terrorism in India – including the Mumbai attacks where both the brutality of the killings and Pakistan’s active role in it were openly on display. Yet I dont recall one incident where Pakistani civilian society registered any protest. Nor has there been a single instance of Pakistani officialdom lifting one finger to take action against any of the parties responsible for it.
    My guess is that this is a miscalculation just as Kargil was, that the Pakistani army and security agencies are overplaying their cards and over time the tectonic pressure will grow too much and release resulting in some sort of a seismic event. That won’t go well for a lot of people on both sides.

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  4. I have to push back on the idea that the Indian strikes in Balakot likely hit and killed something, and that everything else is in dispute.

    Its not in dispute. Local accounts and journalists, international journalists, and international conflict analysts via satellite imagery all agree the Indian strikes hit an empty field and didn’t hurt anyone.

    Only India claims different, via “anonymous sources”, fabricated images of random construction sites (that are supposed to be destroyed camps), and gross misreading of JEM statements (where they claim India attempted to target their camp, which Indian media turned into, “we struck their camp”). There are also alleged images held by the Indian-military, which of course, like in 2016, they will never release.

    The truth is also starting to seep into some parts of Indian media. An Indian minister today admitted the strikes “weren’t meant to inflict casualties”, but “send a message”. A huge backtrack from the “mass casualty” event the government initially claimed.

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  5. I’d love to see a kashmir-o-centric article. (This one is fine,but is really about Pakistan).

    The new thing I noticed in this iteration of the conflict is the anti-Kashmiri language by Hindu nationalists. The RSS guy(ram Madhav), the BJP governor of Meghalaya, etc.

    This is a new thing (I think) in the Hindu right. Not sure how long kashmir can remain in india if the indian right wing parties hate the Kashmiri people. Unless they aim for the rohingya/trail of tears solution, as this blog sometimes advocates.

    In any case, India is not yet at a stable equilibrium in Indo-Kashimiri relations.

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    1. It is actually scary how much some Indians hate Kashmiri Muslims. On the one hand, Kashmir is an “integral part” of India and Kashmiris are Indian citizens. Yet, many Indians seem to see nothing wrong with collective punishment of an entire community for the actions of one militant. I understand the anger over the deaths of 40 paramilitaries but what good is attacking Kashmiri students in India proper supposed to do? “Othering” an entire community is certainly not the way to win hearts and minds.

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  6. What is the reason the precision-guided munitions in the Balakot strike missed their target?

    1. IAF is so incompetent as to enter wrong GPS co-ordinates into the PGMs. I doubt this level of incompetence.
    2. They were deliberately dropped around and not on the madrassa. If so and if target accuracy was not critical, why use PGMs and not regular bombs? Give Pakistan deniability? Why?
    3. IAF planes fired the munitions from a large distance, perhaps in Pakistani Kashmir airspace, perhaps even from J&K airspace, and never entered Pakistan proper. Range limitation might have degraded PGM accuracy?

    Any other thoughts from Punditeers?

    To me, the whole episode is a clear tactical loss for India. If new red lines were attempted, they have not been drawn yet. I would expect Pakistan to be more confident (perhaps wrongly confident, still confident) now of launching another proxy strike at will than they were between Uri and Pulwama.

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    1. MadhSang, India’s primary strategic threat is Pakistani disintegration. India also has a major stake in who wins the Pakistani civil war. India didn’t want to do anything that excessively hurt the Pakistani moderates India is rooting for. Or excessively damage the capacity, competence and merit of Pakistani national institutions.

      To phrase differently India’s policy has three legs:
      —surging Pakistani competence, capacity and merit over the long run
      —facilitating Pakistani reforms where moderates succeed with respect to Islamists over the medium and long run
      —doing just enough to reduce terrorist strikes inside India in the short run to allow time and space for Pakistani capacity to surge and for Pakistani reform to succeed.

      MadhSang what other targets (besides Balakat) were hit?

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      1. India is going to “facilitate Pakistani reforms”? You sure think a lot of yourself. What makes you think India has any ability to influence the development of Pakistani society?

        Strikes on our territory will only serve to bring Pakistanis together–even those who are not fans of IK or the military. All political disagreements go away when the homeland is attacked.

        This pontification about “Pakistani civil war” is ridiculous. Clearly, you have no idea about Pakistan.

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    2. On q.2, if your strategy is to draw attention to the existence of seminaries and training camps with markings of JeM and you destroy them, then media attention is on casualties. Now, it’s about facilities still standing. Pakistan foreign minister too needs to be thanked for his BBC and CNN interviews.
      On q.3, even Pakistani spox admitted IAF entered their airspace. Dispute is about how long.

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  7. “Otherwise the Indian performance is not seen as something to write home about.”

    I am amazed by how the stock of Pakistan standing in world affairs has gone so low that even after a bonafide win, its still seen as some sort of draw by folks. I m not talking about international publications who do have a ax to grind against Modi, but of “South asian” experts of Washington think tanks(pure lonely Kugleman lol).Just imagine if the shoe on the other foot, had India captured a Pakistani pilot, it would have been seen a major win. Perhaps the next time a more palatable (to the international publications) Congress govt is in power in India, they can just shout “Dhiskaon, Dhiskaon” on the border and we might as well give the win to India.

    “The next time there is a terrorist attack in India that can be traced to Pakistan-based Jihadist organizations, India will respond militarily. ”

    Nope it will not, No amount of economic/military advantage over your adversary could make any politician do something if he feels he would not benefit from it. Modi does this because even when India loses (like the pilot episode) it still is a win for him , since its fuels revanchism among his supporters. Its funny but the bar is so low that he can actually get away by just doing “something”.Also future politicians will not enforce supposedly Indian “red lines” because the cost of enforcing it outweighs the prospective loses and all politician are risk -averse. I have a feeling that even Modi would have found it difficult to enforce this red lines had he been the follow up leader rather than the one who is establishing this red lines.

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    1. “I am amazed by how the stock of Pakistan standing in world affairs has gone so low that even after a bonafide win, its still seen as some sort of draw by folks…(by) “South asian” experts of Washington think tanks..”

      I know Savarkarite Nationalists and assorted redpill-realists caricature him but maybe this has an obvious explanation: MMS-led India’s restrained, mature behavior to provocative but eventually counterproductive PakMil sponsored attacks?

      Hear the DC folks say it:

      https://twitter.com/tanvi_madan/status/1101100129803780096

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    2. ” I am amazed by how the stock of Pakistan standing in world affairs has gone so low that even after a bonafide win, its still seen as some sort of draw by folks…(by) “South asian” experts of Washington think tanks”

      I know Savarkarite nationalists and redpill-realists caricature him but may be this has an obvious explanation- MMS led India’s restrained, mature response to PakMil sponsored (and eventually counterproductive) terror attacks?

      Ok, hear the DC folsk say it:

      Probably an unpopular opinion among the crowd here, but India's restraint since 2001 has not been seen as a sign of weakness, but a sign of maturity — & that India has its eyes on the prize, while Pakistan seems to only hv eyes on India.— Tanvi Madan (@tanvi_madan) February 28, 2019

      Doubt this reserve in favor of India will survive a couple more of Modi’s transparently jingoist-propagandist adventures.

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  8. I agree, this was a loss for India. Pak out maneuvered them at virtually every turn.

    I’m also not sure why people are saying “new red lines” have been drawn. This would be the case if India demonstrated the ability to strike unimpeded in Pakistan, and prevent a counter-strike. Pak would then be forced to act against its proxies to prevent further action by India.

    But this is not what happened. Pak demonstrated that it can respond equally to Indian strikes (and shot down an Indian jet to boot). It also showed the threat of nuclear escalation was sufficient to deter India from further attacks.

    I can’t emphasize enough how important it was that Pak was able to force deescalation following their counter-strike on India. It showed India’s initial strike was not accepted (by the world or Pak) as a defensive strike in response to the JEM attack, but a first strike, which Pak was allowed to respond to, and then align with the world in forcing a peace.

    This is the exact opposite of what India wanted.

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  9. Great piece by Omar Bhai as usual. The key takeaway for Indian military and govt is that the rungs of the escalation ladder to a nuke exchange are much more clear after Balakot than before. That itself was worth all the hassle.

    As far as the efficacy of strikes themselves goes, Indians may miss but Israeli tech does not. The road to Jannah of many a jihadist is paved by good Israeli weapons 😉

    https://www.ndtv.com/india-news/what-happened-at-balakot-unreleased-satellite-pic-may-prove-indias-case-2002060

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  10. So far the only credible evidence of damage done by the airstrikes is

    Skip to 6:11

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P_Bd03jRrWQ&t=423s

    Jabba is not too far from Abbottabad.

    The actual damage caused by the airstrikes is not that important. Not one major world capital officially protested the airstrikes and penetrating the international border of a nuclear armed country. THIS IS A BIG GAME CHANGER for Pakistan. The Americans obviously chose to look the other way and my feeling is that the Pakistani Army was already informed about the nature of the airstrikes and its intended purpose which was to assuage the hysteria of the Indian media and the public demands to “do something”. There is just NO WAY all 12/14 planes could have flown in out without any damage considering the fact that the PAF is quite capable as we saw the next day. The targets were intentionally very low value on mountaintops and it is difficult to believe that anybody was sitting there waiting to die.

    Now, what happened the next day was a knee jerk reaction from factions in the Pakistani Army. They backed out of the deal made with the Americans. A war hero emerged for India but the one on the other side Wing Commander Shahzaz will unfortunately remain nameless. His father an ex Air Marshal had to blow the whistle which he promptly did as reported by a London based Pakistani origin lawyer.

    For those having a hard time believing this story please google for TRUMP’s statements. After Pulwana he had said something to the effect in his usual style: “India wants something big this time. You know they lost fifty people. Very bad.”

    And then in the middle of the North Korean summit and before the release of the pilot “I think you are going to hear some reasonably good news from the region.”

    Now why would the Pakistani army cooperate with such a deal? at least two reasons:

    1. Allowing token surgical strikes would help their image as a state sponsor of terrorism particularly after the OBL fiasco.

    2. A somewhat warming of relations with US and a resumption of military assistance once again to “fight terrorism” but in reality to use against India and back to the good old days. The Chinese stuff they are getting right now is just subpar. Yeah $$$!

    Why would the Americans agree?

    1. Defence contracts from BOTH countries. Please recall, the defence sector stocks went up the day after Trump’s election. India’s intended purchase of the F-22 has been derailed by the reported success of the Mig 21 against the F-16.

    2. Trump already has business interests in India and I believe his son or son in law is there right now . The recent well publicized weddings and presence of top leaders like Kerry, Clinton indicates that there is plenty of dough out there not to mention heavy campaign contributions from India’s neo rich billionaires.

    Sorry, I did not provide too many links but all the facts mentioned are out there. The interpretation is of course my own. Thank you for your time.

    1+
    1. Pakistan has no friends left in the world, except for maybe MBS and KSA.

      China, US, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, Singapore, Australia, New Zealand, Iran, Russia, Egypt, UAE, Jordan, Iraq, Turkey, Europe, Brazil, Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco, Nigeria, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, southern Sudan, Somalia, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Chad, Mali, Libya are all supporting India.

      Almost the entire OIC and Arab League are siding with India. This is a global first.

      The US has repeatedly refused Indian and Japanese attempts to buy F22s.

      Would you be interested in a detailed article on the Indian Air Force?

      0
      1. Hi An An:

        “Would you be interested in a detailed article on the Indian Air Force?”

        Assuming the question is for me, I am honored but I am not a military technology buff to write such a piece. By the way have you seen these videos from “Twitchy”

        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NUBqlMvDiPE

        The guy seems to know what he is talking about in terms of technology. US, France, Russia who have huge defence industry establishments have to sell their latest wares from the marketing perspective. The recent confrontations has moved forward the purchase of French Rafael aircraft based on news reports. This issue is political also. I think the Migs are serviced by HAL (Hindustan Aeronautics) a company that was started by Indira Gandhi for the benefit of her younger son who was a pilot and not a politician at the time. Recall that she started Maruti Motors for her older son Sanjay. It is difficult to say without technological expertise how the upgrading of aircrafts would affect HAL and the 23 political parties lead by Rahul Gandhi against the NDA in the upcoming elections.

        I do think that India did not win the next morning air fight. The “surprise” attack came the next day in broad day light without a clear mission and still the score was 1-1. It should have been much more favorable to India. As a counter point, most of the 24 planes did not cross the border and from reports regarding how the battle took place , which are NOT that reliable mind you, the F-16 was hit from behind by the Mig 21. IF true, that supports my theory that the “attack” was really just a panicky airshow from the PAF.

        You have perhaps also seen the following briefing from Air Chief Marshal Dhanoa

        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q9-Q0zGhTAo

        In the first two minutes he narrates stories of vintage aircrafts (1:46 min) doing well against superior wares with a bit of an apologetic tone, imho.

        In terms of an article, I am tempted to write a piece titled “IAF needs more Air ” or something like that, but I am going to resist the temptation for the following reasons.

        1. A total lack of knowledge of airplanes other than buying a plane ticket and following instructions from the flight crew.

        2. and more importantly insulting the contributions of the brave heroes since 1947 who have have received Paramvir Chakras including the latest one Abhinandan.

        Thank you.

        0
        1. I was thinking of writing a detailed article on the Indian Air Force. Was assessing how much interest there is in this type of content.

          It would take me dozens of pages to flesh out my thoughts on the Indian Air Force. Or the US airforce, or the Pakistani air force. Or the Chinese Air Force.

          Currently most defense institutions around the world lack strategic vision or a detailed understanding of co-variances and trade offs.

          For example an intelligent policy would be to develop a 5th generation stealth fighter in close collaboration with Japan and South Korea. Sadly this appears very unlikely.

          I am planning one on the Afghan Air Force . BP will likely interview some leaders of the Afghan defense establishment (who are lobbying for greater global support).

          0
  11. There’s too much misinformation and bombast from both sides still to be able to piece together an exactly accurate sequence of events. I found Twitter to be surprisingly the best source of information as it became available, if one manages to overlook the now boringly predictable abuses and comments trolls from both sides.

    But the real outcomes are closely in India’s favour –

    Militarily, the balakot strikes achieved what they set out to. Francesca Marino writes that primary eyewitnesses report a significant toll after the strikes. A BBC Hindi interview also confirms the lock down and cutting off of the targetted areas in Balakot and requisitioning of a large number of hospital beds nearby. Evacuation, Santisation and blockage of phone and internet services in the area circumstantially confirm the impact of the strikes. I expect satellite imagery to be made available soon from India’s side to corroborate.

    The dogfights that soon followed the Pakistani counter-strike (or should we say counter-counter-strike) over Kashmiri airspace too was a hard one to judge, but now that the fog has lifted it’s a bit clearer. An Indian plane was shot and the pilot captured after narrowly avoiding being lynched by locals. A Pakistani plane was also shot down but the unfortunate pilot suffered the fate his Indian counterpart narrowly avoided – that too on his side of the LOC. Both pilots that fell were wing commanders and in turn sons of wing commanders. Reality is stranger than fiction indeed. This isn’t the first time Pakistan is sweeping under the carpet a loss of its own soldier (may he rest in peace), remember Kargil anyone?

    Diplomatically – an Indian win all around. India manages to get condemnation of the pulwama attack from countries ranging from France to New Zealand and the right to strike back was recognised all around. India gets invited to OIC, Pakistan snubbed and refuses to attend. The optics don’t look good for Pakistan one bit.

    Most importantly – both Modi and Imran khan ‘win’ their respective constituencies. The latter wins a few (more) fans in India after the release of the the pilot but it’s clear that it was done more to hastily force an end to the confrontation and salvage face rather than anything else.

    The dust is yet to settle.

    2+
  12. India used Mirages, a nuclear capable aircraft, for the bombing. Thats a big message. Which forced/allowed Pak to use F-16s, their nuclear capable jet.
    The natural increase of anti-India terrorists was predicted long back, when US pulling out of Afg became certain. Hence this event was truly, in the words of Modi, a “pilot project” for “practice”.

    1+
  13. Pakistan’s airspace has been closed for nearly a week now. Would be great if someone who understands these matters can explain why this necessary and what it implies in terms of Pakistan’s air defence capability.

    0
    1. Vikram, this is devastating the Pakistani private sector. This is one of the ways India is pressuring Pakistan to achieve short term policy objectives.

      I don’t care too much about short term objectives. My focus is on the medium to long term (Pakistani reform/liberalization and ending the Pakistani civil war). The short term is to buy time and space for the medium/long run.

      0
      1. I was thinking more about whether this is due to radar quality issues or something else, but as Janmajeya informs us below, it is due to Pakistan lacking enough refining capacity.

        0
    2. I think this is because Pakistan needs to conserve aviation turbine fuel in case a real war with India breaks out. They do not have much refining capacity.

      This was an issue at the time of Kargil war as well where after some initial sorties to keep an eye on Indian air activity, Pak grounded all their military aircraft to conserve fuel among other reasons.

      2+
  14. We need to ignore the tactical one-upmanship and media flourishes.

    I agree with Omar that the strategic balance has changed. India has called Pakistan’s bluff of the nuclear umbrella, under the cover of which the Kashmir insurgency has been carried out. India has been constantly on the defensive and appeared to be impotent in the face of Pakistan sponsored terrorism. By penetrating Pakistani airspace and going beyond the psychological borders of the erstwhile Kashmir state, India has surprised the Pakistani military establishment.

    This happened once before as well – in 1965. In response to Pakistani insurgency in Jammu and Kashmir, India surprised Pakistan by sending in an army column to the outskirts of Lahore.

    If Modi retains a parliamentary majority, all bets are off, if and when terrorists strike in J&K or parts of India. Expect India to continue to ratchet up the pressure on Pakistan every way possible, including moving naval elements into the Arabian Sea. Even if ships to-and-from Pakistan are not intercepted, their very presence will drive up the insurance cost for seaborne trade with Pakistan. Pressure on Pakistani borders will also dissuade visitors and trade. Yes, this will also hurt India. But the impact on Pakistan’s finances will be massive.

    This is the changed strategic environment.

    0
  15. Some credible updates

    https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/world/middle-east/iran-threatens-action-against-pakistan-based-terrorist-groups/articleshow/68248206.cms

    A similar attack had taken place on the Iranian National Guard a few weeks ago.

    The Pakistani government has detained Azhar’r brother and son along with other 40 odd JeM cadre.

    https://www.thehindu.com/news/international/masood-azhars-brother-and-son-detained/article26439211.ece

    This is so eerily familiar.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sheikh_Mujibur_Rahman

    The whole 1971 mess started when a democratically elected Mujibur Rahman was arrested.

    I hope they don’t DEPOSE Imran Khan. There are rumors that Mirages had released drones that have aired incontrovertible evidence of the damage done by the airstrikes. Perhaps that is why Pakistan had sent a drone in Rajasthan that was shot down yesterday.

    https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/sukhoi-downs-pakistan-drone-on-rajasthan-border/articleshow/68262560.cms

    These are some anxious times. It is not over yet.

    0
  16. Focus on Balakot airstrike: India sticks with casualty figure

    https://gulfnews.com/world/asia/india/focus-on-balakot-airstrike-india-sticks-with-casualty-figure-1.1551803414504

    “Balakot, the town in a remote valley in Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province where the Indian Air Force struck the Jaish-e-Mohammad’s (JeM) biggest training camp on Tuesday, was the “epicentre of jihad in South Asia”, according to a 2010 book Partitions of Allah-Jihad in South Asia.

    In the book, historian Ayesha Jalal had contended that the idea and practice of jihad had a long tradition in the Indian subcontinent with Balakot as its epicentre.
    Jalal had noted in the book, published in March 2010 by Harvard University Press, that Balakot was the place where Sayyid Ahmad (1786-1831) and Shah Ismail (1779-1831) waged a jihad against the Sikh kingdom of Maharaja Ranjit Singh and fell in battle on May 6, 1831.

    “Balakot’s association with the idea and practice of jihad in South Asia was reinforced in the 1990s, when militant groups set up training camps in its environs to prepare for their campaign against the Indian security forces stationed in predominantly Muslim Kashmir. For these militants, Sayyid Ahmad and Shah Ismail are great heroes, whose jihad their admirers wish to emulate, to redress what they perceive as current injustices,” Jalal had written in the book.

    Terror groups are fixated on symbolism and it was Balakot in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa that emreged (sic) as the place for the biggest training camp of Jaish-e-Mohammad, which has claimed responsibility for the Pulwama terror attack.

    “It was decided that the revenge would be taken on the 13th day of Pulwama attack to pay “best homage” to the slain CRPF personnel who lost their lives after a bus, part of a 78-vehicle convoy, they were travelling in was blown up by a suicide bomber on the Jammu-Srinagar highway.”

    Lookout for the four holes from the Spice 2000 missiles.

    https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/defence/balakot-proof-radar-images-confirm-iafs-precision-air-strike/videoshow/68286740.cms

    0
      1. “Mayuresh Madhav Kelkar, do you think the Pakistani Army really wants a peace deal with Afghanistan?”

        Don’t think so. See below.

        “These discussions are ongoing and what we’re focusing on are the four interconnected issues that are going to compose any future agreement,” Palladino said, listing them as “terrorism,” “troop withdrawal,” “intra-Afghan dialogue,” and a “cease-fire.”

        If America gets out of there they will be left at the mercy of India, Modi or no Modi. The American media has basically ignored the recent happenings in South Asia other than some nominal Cold War era spins I have seen on CNN and Fox News. This mess is just not profitable for the Americans.

        https://gulfnews.com/world/asia/india/focus-on-balakot-airstrike-india-sticks-with-casualty-figure-1.1551803414504

        The above report confirms that the JeM capabilities have been significantly degraded. So hardliners in the Pakistani Army are going to want to use these terror groups in a hurry to the extent even THEY can still control them after Balakot.

        0
        1. America is already out of there in a fighting sense. Over 51 months the ANSF suffered over 45,000 killed in combat while America suffered less than 60.

          What the Pakistani Army and their Taliban proxies are asking for is less changing the number of US troops than persuading the US to stop providing foreign aid to Afghanistan [which would dramatically slash funding for the ANSF.] That would be a catastrophe.

          JeM and their allies are stronger than ever. Most of their combat power is currently fighting the ANSF in Afghanistan.

          0
          1. “JeM and their allies are stronger than ever. Most of their combat power is currently fighting the ANSF in Afghanistan.”

            Good point. Here is another scenario. Whenever the Americans exit in 5-10 years, Karzai would become another Mujibur Rahman and this time the Indian Armed Forces would be marching west.

            0
  17. Mayuresh Madhav Kelkar . . . nuclear weapons . . . nuclear weapons.

    No one can do this. Despite the Pakistani Army trying to overthrow the Afghan government and defeat the Afghan National Army for over 15 years; no one has attempted this.

    China has offered to train and equip the ANSF in a major way under US and Indian command. Do you think India should collaborate with China to help the ANSF fight the Taliban and Pakistani Army?

    0
  18. “No one can do this. Despite the Pakistani Army trying to overthrow the Afghan government and defeat the Afghan National Army for over 15 years; no one has attempted this.”

    That is because the Americans are still there.

    “China has offered to train and equip the ANSF in a major way under US and Indian command. Do you think India should collaborate with China to help the ANSF fight the Taliban and Pakistani Army?”

    Don’t think so. India should stay out of it. Otherwise they will be making the same mistake as their neighbors.

    “Mayuresh Madhav Kelkar . . . nuclear weapons . . . nuclear weapons.”

    The nuclear bluff has been called already. In the modern world every country big or small has a right to exist with or without an army. Do you know that Pakistan has more nuclear war heads than India? It makes no sense. They crank them out like doughnuts.

    https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/pakistan-has-more-nuclear-warheads-india-credible-deterrence/articleshow/64641056.cms

    0
    1. The international community–America included–has not seriously threatened Pakistan because of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons. Despite the Pakistani Army backing the Taliban, Al Qaeda and various other terrorist groups. India can’t either.

      India trains more Afghan National Army officers per year than the number of 4 year cadets the ANA Training and Doctrine Command admits every year.

      India could easily significantly increase training for the ANSF in collaboration with China, Turkey, Europe, Russia, Iran, Australia, Japan, South Korea, USA, Canada, UAE, Jordan, Egypt.

      This would shift the war in favor of the ANSF. Is there any reason to think this won’t work?

      The 2009 McChrystal ISAF plan called for increasing the throughput of 4 year cadets to 3,000 per year. Currently only 600 are admitted per year. Too few for the ASNF to win.

      0

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