On ‘strike’ and ‘surprise’
Mohsin Raza Malik
Pakistan and India got closer to a full-blown armed conflict last week as both countries remained committed to surprise each other militarily. First, India claimed to have conducted a “surgical strike” on a “terror facility” inside Pakistan. However, not really impressed by such Indian claim, Pakistan also readily vowed to thoroughly surprise India. So, in rather a surprising move, Pakistan Air Force shot down two Indian aircrafts the very next day. Later, Pakistan also returned the captured Indian Air Force pilot to de-escalate tensions between the two countries. But despite such “peace gesture” by Pakistan, India currently looks in no mood of climbing down the escalation ladder. Soon after the release of Indian pilot by Pakistan, Indian army martyred four, including two Pakistan army soldiers, during unprovoked shelling along the Line of Control in AJK.
Pakistan has strongly denied what called by India a “surgical strike” claiming to have “neutralized” some 350 “terrorists” belonging to Jaish-e-Muhammad group near Balakot in Pakistan last week. DG ISPR Major General Asif Ghafoor tweeted that Pakistani jets forced Indian planes to make a “hasty withdrawal”, dropping their payload in an open area. He also denied any casualty or damage in Pakistan in consequence of this “intrusion” by the Indian aircrafts. Similarly, Pakistan has also strongly rejected another Indian claim of downing a Pakistani F-16 fighter jet inside its territory.
This is second time around India has provided no plausible evidence in support of its claim of surgical strike inside Pakistan. India also made such unsubstantiated claim of conducting a surgical strike inside Pakistan following the Uri terror attack in IOK in 2016. In fact, there are many shortcomings and contradictions in India’s recent claim of surgical strikes in Pakistan, severely undermining its veracity and credibility. If, for a moment, we presume this claim to be true, it must be the biggest ever single incident resulting in such a large number of casualties. Surely, it must be graver than the 2016 APS Peshawar incident and the 2008 Mumbai attacks. In the wake of such heavy casualties, there must be a humanitarian crisis in the locality where the alleged surgical strike was conducted, attracting much public and media attention.
India didn’t release any single genuine video footage of this incident. And surprisingly, no local as well as foreign media in Pakistan reported this incident which purported to have happened in a populated and settled area of Pakistan. Nor could the hyperactive social media in Pakistan cover any single aspect of it. On the other hand, we have seen many video footages of the wreckage of both destroyed Indian aircrafts aired by the media. Similarly, the capture and release of Indian fighter pilot by Pakistan have also been witnessed by the entire world. So, facts always speak for themselves.
Technically, the term “surgical strike’ denotes a swift and surprising military action intended to destroy or damage a particular target, with no or minimal collateral damage. Though this term is frequently used, such strikes are only rarity in the inter-state armed conflicts in the contemporary world. They just got prominence in the wake of certain counter-terror kinetic actions across the world in the post-9/II period. A number of states have been conducting similar strikes against various violent non state actors within their territorial jurisdiction or areas under their control. Pakistan’s armed forces have destroyed various hideouts of TTP militants in the tribal areas in certain surgical strikes. Similarly, the ISAF troops have also been conducting surgical strikes against the operatives of Al-Qaeda and other militant outfits in Afghanistan.
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Globally, the phenomena of surgical strikes have only been observed in Iraq twice. Israeli war planes destroyed a nuclear facility in Iraq in a surgical strike in 1981. Similarly, the US aircrafts, during the initial stage of the 2003 invasion in Iraq, targeted some Iraqi government buildings and military bases in various coordinated surgical strikes. Noticeably, such strikes essentially presuppose an asymmetrical relationship between two different states. Certainly, there was no comparison between the air power of Iraq and that of Israel and the US.
It is a fact Indian Air Force has no apparent edge over Pakistan Air Force. Instead, Pakistan’s air power is superior to that of India in some way. Technologically, PAF’s fleet, largely comprising fourth-generation combat aircrafts like F-16 and JF-17 fighter jets, is far better than IAF’s fleet which is composed of third-generation fighter aircrafts. Pakistan has just established its air superiority last week by simultaneously downing two Indian fighter aircrafts. Moreover, Indian Prime Minister Modi has also admitted his government’s failure to replace the obsolete Indian fighter aircrafts with next-generation Rafale jets following last week’s surprised retaliation by Pakistan.
It is quite obvious that India is technically not capable of conducting any deep surgical strike inside Pakistan. Moreover, There was also almost no room for such surprise strike as Pakistan’s air and ground forces have been on high alert in the wake of escalating tensions between the two countries following the Pulwama incident. Therefore, it must be an absurdity to believe in such rubbish Indian claims, probably inspired by some popular Bollywood action flicks, regarding surgical strike in Pakistan. Ironically, India has long been managing to make a large section of the global media believe in such absurdities. There is a strong presence of the foreign news media in Pakistan. But regrettably, none of them has ever seriously tried to precisely discover the real facts regarding ridiculous Indian claims of surgical strikes.
I, in my last column, ruled out any possibility of the full-fledged armed conflict between India and Pakistan in the face of perfect balance of power between the two countries. I also maintained that Pakistan possessed a superior air power and more accurate delivery system. The last week’s strike-cum-surprise saga has somehow established these facts very well. This awful episode had just exposed the miserable state of Indian air power. On the other hand, it has validated the efficiency and effectiveness of Pakistan’s military deterrence against India. We have also observed that Pakistan is fully capable of effectively responding to any Indian aggression or misadventure.
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It is now crystal clear that both nuclear-armed South Asian neighbours can by no means bear the economic cost of a full-scale military confrontation. So, we have seen India avoiding to escalate the military tensions with Pakistan above a certain threshold despite enormous domestic pressure in the wake of Pulwama incident to teach Pakistan a lesson. Similarly, Pakistan has also constantly been trying to de-escalate such tensions through its “peace gestures” and other diplomatic means. Therefore, India and Pakistan now must learn to live peacefully side by side after resolving their long-running-bilateral disputes, namely the core issue of Kashmir. For both neighbours, dialogue is the only option. And peace is the only way forward.