By Amjad Mahmood
Many Pakistani cricket lovers around the globe will equate the post-Balakot strike events with the famous “Golden Duck” of Sachin Tendulkar clean bowled by Shoaib Akhtar in front of a fully packed Eden Gardens crowd in 1999. The silence in the stadium after Sachin’s dismissal was historically deafening. For many, a similar feat was nearly replicated recently when the events in the aftermath of the Pulwama Suicide attack, on Feb 14 2019, resulting in an airstrike by India on Pakistani soil and concluding with the downing of two Indian planes shell shocked both the Indian government and the Indian media.
India went in a shell, the media frenzy gripped the minds and an unbelievable silence enveloped the corridors of New Delhi. It was the timely precision of the Pakistani response that had left Modi’s pride rattled and bruised.
If we dissect the events, the timelines are simple and feel like Deja Vu.
A tragic event happening on the Indian side, blamed on the ‘Kashmiris’-‘Pakistani state’ nexus, building up of forces on the border and the Line of Control (LOC), coupled with an aggressive and propaganda driven media campaign.
While Pakistan had suspected a possibility of such an event in wake of the Indian elections and had already conveyed it in many capitals of the world, it wasn’t until Pulwama, the IAF strike in Balakot and its aftermath that further weakened India’s volatile narrative. Pakistani military and PM Imran Khan, who had already, in unequivocal terms, announced Pakistan’s will to respond, had to oblige, and they did oblige well.
In its response, the Pakistani Air Force shot down two Indian fighter jets and captured a pilot alive after locking and engaging the Indian Brigade HQ where the military’s senior leadership was also present. The whole “assembly line” of military advancement, throat rupturing media campaign and diplomatic assault evaporated clueless in thin air in India. This was a practical manifestation of various Air Power Doctrines taught around the world, where a single strike can play on the psyche of a nation.
While many political, diplomatic and military operational details shall continue to surface in months and years to come, few stark facts are likely to remain same.
It is rumored that the Indian aggression had a tacit approval from various Western powers. Moreover, Pakistan’s friends such as China and Saudi Arabia played a balancing act, whereas the UN Secretary General also failed to attend a call from PM Imran Khan.
It was only Turkey that stood strong with Pakistan, with lukewarm responses from many other states. This could also be interpreted that many states around the world had “some” alignment with the Indian narrative, who didn’t approved of a full blown conflict, however they were also comfortable with any limited skirmish only along the LOC.
This was a moment of truth for Pakistan; a decade of over the board friendly gestures by former governments had not reaped many dividends for Pakistan. However, this time around, the situation was different.
The Balakot miscalculation by India was to have a domino effect on further debacles which were to follow. The Indian media upped its war hysteria to a level unheard or seen ever before anywhere to the tune of getting mocked internationally. While it created dangerous fault lines in a more polarized India, the Pakistani media stood united gelling the nation together; a rare occurrence since last two decades.
The confidence shown by the Indian media in their armed forces and the world support was built upon Modi’s RSS upbringing and policies churned out by the “Ajit Doval” mindset. The trap was set for a failure and embarrassment of major proportions.
While the two nations got glued to the TV screens for Balakot airstrike updates, the news of downing of two Indian fighter jets by Pakistan was nothing less than a shock for the Indian audience. While Pakistan went in to an instant “celebration with caution” mode, the Indian media shifted from “denial”, to “still confirming”, to “reluctantly doubting” and finally “accepting” when Abhinandan, the downed Indian fighter pilot, was brought on the Pakistani social and mainstream media.
The disbelief of the Indian government, lack of clarity and a disarrayed narrative was visible for the next few days on social, electronic and print media. The release of the Indian pilot was another surprise Pakistan pulled on India, winning worldwide praise and commendation.
The result was a sudden awakening of the world community to a harsh reality of Indian aggression. Within 24 hours, a barrage of international mediators jumped from nowhere into the limelight leaving India startled, confused and paralyzed to unexpected change in her fortunes.
Moreover, where Pakistan boycotted the OIC special session, due to invitation extended to the Indian Foreign Minister as a Guest of Honour, there was still a diplomatic victory for Islamabad when multiple resolutions sharply criticized India’s brutal policies in Kashmir and her behavior in the current conflict. Hence, even though the Indian losses in a few weeks’ time were in the virtual domain, after the downing of its planes, they were much more damaging than any kinetic response.
The biggest loss that PM Modi has caused India will be the impact on future perception of the world powers on the Indian role, the capacity, the capability and the resolve to further Western policy of containing China in the Eurasian region. The professionalism of the Indian military and its policy implementation has seriously come under a sharp review, while the notion of “Rising and Shining India” has been badly bruised.
Whatever the outcome of recent conflict in kinetic terms, the Indian hegemony in the “virtual domain” has been dented by Pakistan, especially by Islamabad’s peace overtures compared to India’s war mongering. It seems that the ship of Modi’s Rising India might have well sank in Balakot!
Amjad Mahmood holds a Master’s Degree in Strategic Studies from National Defence University, Islamabad. He has varied interests from politics, music, sports to strategy. He is a pilot by profession, but occasionally contributes on politics and International Affairs. He tweets @Flyingtastic, and can be reached on firstname.lastname@example.org