India’s ‘Non-Military Pre-Emptive’ Strike on Pakistan
The Indian Air Force’s strike on a Jaish-e-Mohammad terror training camp in Pakistan’s Balakot delivers a robust but calibrated message.
What was the IAF’s target?
There is a Balakot in the Pakistani province of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, west of PoK, and an attack there would mean IAF planes managed to fly a considerable distance – the town is around 70 km from the LoC – and return safely to base. How deep the ingress was is not known, as the Mirages can fire surface-to-air missiles from a distance.
Even if they were not able to successfully hit the intended target, as Maj Gen Ghafoor implied, the ingress alone would be considered a major military embarrassment for the Pakistani side.
What damage was caused?
According to the Indian foreign secretary,
In this operation, a very large number of JeM terrorists, trainers, senior commanders and groups of jihadis who were being trained for fidayeen action were eliminated.
The Pakistani side insists “no casualties or damage” was caused.
If the Indian claim is correct, it is not clear why a large number of terrorists would be gathered in one location – when it was clear that India was likely to hit back in the wake of the Pulwama incident.
One possible explanation is that the Pakistani military assumed Indian action would be confined to kinetic operations along the LoC or inside PoK, rather than elsewhere in Pakistan.
In the absence of authentic, verifiable information, Indian television channels are claiming that “300-400 terrorists” were killed in the operation.
Will the strike serve as a deterrent to future terrorist attacks?
The 2016 surgical strikes were followed by fierce militant attacks at Nagrota and Sunjwan, and of course the Pulwama suicide bombing on February 14.
How effective the Balakot strike will be is hard to assess, but since terrorist groups are structured and operate differently from regular military formations, the Jaish and others are likely to continue posing a threat to India – especially if the trend of attracting local recruits in Jammu and Kashmir continues.
What is the legality of the Indian action? Is it tantamount to war?
International law gives countries the right of self-defence but there is less clarity about pre-emptive self-defence. Countries like the United States and Israel have invoked this right. This is the first time India has formally spoken of it.
The official statement after the September 2016 surgical strikes also spoke of “very credible and specific information which we received yesterday that some terrorist teams had positioned themselves at launch pads along the Line of Control with an aim to carry out infiltration and terrorist strikes in Jammu & Kashmir and in various other metros in our country”.
However, that action took place “along the LoC”, in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, which is legally Indian territory. The implications of pre-emptive self-defence were not the same as they may be now, as Balakot is inside Pakistan proper.
India’s statement and the reference to the action as “non-military” makes it clear the Indian side has no intention of escalating matters to war. Much now depends on how Pakistan reacts.
At least one Pakistani analyst, Mosharraf Zaidi, saw the choice of Balakot in KPK as meaning India “has attacked Pakistan”.
Will there be a Pakistani response?
The Pakistani denial of any damage having been caused by the Indian Air Force might allow the situation to run like a replay of the September 2016 surgical strikes, which Pakistan denied had even happened.
Denying any Indian claim of inflicting damage allows the Pakistani side to avoid a military retaliation or escalation.