By Murtaza Shibli
Notwithstanding the claims and counter-claims between India and Pakistan, one thing is now acknowledged by both sides that the Indian Air Force planes “entered” the Pakistani territory and returned back safely. This incursion, according to some, may have caused embarrassment to top Pakistani leadership. This is because Prime Minister Imran Khan, only a few days back, had promised retaliation in case of an Indian incursion, whereas the Army Chief, General Qamar Bajwa, while visiting the Line of Control yesterday assured the nation that the armed forces were fully prepared to deal with any escalation move from the other side.
COAS visited Headquarters Rawalpindi Corps. Commander Rawalpindi Corps updated COAS on operational situation & state of readiness along Line of Actual Contact (LAC), Line of Control and Working Boundary (WB). COAS expressed satisfaction on the state of preparations & readiness. pic.twitter.com/OjOl0j9q4R— Maj Gen Asif Ghafoor (@OfficialDGISPR) February 25, 2019
On the other hand, the Indian narrative of hitting out the so-called “terror camps” is at best puffed up with very rich claims of killing nearly “300 terrorists” at a time when even the armies retreat from higher reaches due to unwholesome weather. Regardless, this is a major escalation that is designed to gain several tactical and strategic advantages, both in India and Pakistan.
For a start, this has given an obvious electoral advantage to Prime Minister Modi and his image as a person “who can teach Pakistan a lesson” and immediately neutralized the criticism that he has been receiving about his failure in dealing with the Pulwama fidayeen attack. Besides, “the strikes”, as they are being presented by the India media, will immensely help the ruling BJP and Mr. Modi in his election campaign. The initial reaction that has followed the “strikes” is that the opposition has been forced to abandon its criticism of Modi and congratulate their military forces in successfully carrying out attacks against the unknown terrorists.
#IndiaStrikesBack | PM Narendra Modi assures that country is in 'safe hands' hours after India strikes at Jaish-e-Mohammed camp. He was talking at a rally in Churu, Rajasthan.#Balakot pic.twitter.com/G8y9eG0i4C— ET NOW (@ETNOWlive) February 26, 2019
Irrespective of whether it caused any damage or not, the strike also raises questions on the preparedness of the Pakistan army. Moreover, many believe that the incursion may also expose the Prime Minister and the army to domestic criticism, particularly from the opposition and the journalists, who have traditionally been aligned with the House of Sharifs or those part-timers who have been associated with the western-funded NGOs for their day jobs, and are usually very vocal against the army and the government in their guise as media commentators.
The aftermath of these strikes could also affect regional calculus – “India, Iran and the US” in Afghanistan, and “Iran and India” in their desire to frustrate Pakistan in short-term for its efforts to widen its economic portfolio through its deep relations with China or nascent association with Saudi Arabia. Moreover, the aftermath of the Indian strike would now test the resolve of the PTI government. PM Imran Khan, after chairing a National Security Committee (NSC) meeting, has announced that he will contact the global leadership to “expose irresponsible Indian policy in the region”. Moreover, the NSC, in its statement read out by Foreign Minister Qureshi, also said that Pakistan said it would respond to Indian aggression at time and place of its choosing.
These statements suggest that rather than escalation, the PTI Government and the military leadership is aiming for de-escalation using diplomatic channels with the global leadership. However, only time will tell whether Pakistan succeeds, this time around, in effectively conveying its message of peace and dialogue with India.
Murtaza Shibli is a British Kashmiri journalist and author. He lives between Lahore, London and Srinagar. He tweets at murtaza_shibli