With two aircraft down, one pilot captured alive – “Operation Bandar” – the Balakot strike – failed to achieve not only its objectives but also exposed to the world the inherent weaknesses of a nuclear-armed Inda.
The botched attempt to strike deep inside Pakistan following a false flag operation at Pulwama on Feb 14, 2019, established the military and technological superiority of the Pakistan Air Force and shattered to pieces the myth of Indian military might.
The Indian authorities code-named the attack on Balakot as “Operation Bandar” to minimize the chances of leaking the news. The word “Bandar” was chosen because monkeys enjoy a sacred place in the Hindu religion and this refers to a tale in the religious myths of Hinduism where Hanuman (a deity who shows resemblance to the monkey) secretly entered Lanka and burned it to the ground. This name was chosen – to enter Pakistan secretly and burn it to the ground.
The Indian Air Force launched an aerial strike near ‘Balakot’ On Feb 26, 2019, targeting a religious seminary that India described as a militant camp, and claimed killing more than 300 terrorists but without sharing any shred of evidence to corroborate the claims.
“India has committed uncalled-for aggression to which Pakistan shall respond at the time and place of its choosing…Armed Forces and the people of Pakistan to remain prepared for all eventualities,” Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan said following the attack.
The Indian strike struck a hillside, killing one crow and damaging few precious pine trees, an act which prompted Prime Minister Imran Khan to repeatedly say that he was very hurt, as trees were very close to his heart.
Military attaches and foreign media also later visited the site and also went to the nearby madrassa of local village children, who were lucky enough to escape the Indian recklessness.
India claimed that its air force had managed to kill more than 300 terrorists while Pakistan but several international observers negated the claim as there were no casualties and the bombs had clearly missed the target, which in fact was not a terrorist camp, but an ordinary religious school, for the village children.
“The Pakistanis are bound to react, conventionally and not through a proxy like a militant group,” Rahul Bedi, an analyst at the London-based Jane’s Information Group told the New York Times. “Where they react and when is something that only Pakistanis know.”
The newspaper pointed that in the run-up to Indian elections this spring, and with Mr. Modi facing a fierce re-election fight, voters have demanded that New Delhi respond to the Kashmir attack with force against Pakistan.
“What they hit is speculation for now,” Mr. Bedi said. “This is more political symbolism than anything else. Mr. Modi had to show some demonstrable action on India’s part, ahead of elections.”
In response, Pakistan Air Force launched a counter-strike on Feb 27, 2019, intended primarily to demonstrate Pakistan’s resolve and carefully crafted it to avoid casualties on the ground.
During the short aerial encounter that followed, PAF shot down two IAF aircraft and captured one of the pilots. The pilot was later released as a goodwill gesture and to avoid further escalation.
Prime Minister Imran Khan in his address to a joint parliamentary session said; “In our desire for peace, I announce that tomorrow, and as a first step to open negotiations, Pakistan will be releasing the Indian Air Force officer in our custody,” a decision hailed by top world leaders as a great gesture.
Pakistan confirmed the arrest of Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman by the Pakistan Army. However, he was later released as a “goodwill gesture”.
India claimed that one of its Mig-21s shot down Pakistan’s F-16 aircraft which was also refuted by an influential Foreign Policy magazine based on the interviews with the US Department of Defence (DoD) officials who verified that no F-16 was missing from the Pakistani inventory.
According to the magazine, Pakistan invited the US to physically count its F-16 planes after the incident as part of an end-user agreement signed when the foreign military sale was finalized.
Some of the aircraft were not immediately available for inspection due to the conflict, so it took US personnel several weeks to account for all of the jets, one US official said.
But now the count has been completed, and “all aircraft were present and accounted for,” the official said.”
While the Indian so-called surgical strike was being touted by India as a great success and declared as a ‘new norm’, but on the other hand, India’s senior leadership blamed the failure on the non-availability of aircraft like Rafale, which according to them would have changed the outcome of Balakot crisis.
Even the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi admitted the failure of his Air Force and while speaking at India Today event said “Today, all of India is saying that if we had the Rafale, then the result would have been different.”
Pakistan’s response was intended to deter war and establish nuclear deterrence, the success of which could be gauged by the fact that India could not move up the escalation ladder and backed down.
On Feb 27, the military’s media wing said Pakistan Air Force had engaged six targets at the LoC. Maj Gen Ghafoor termed it a conscious decision not to attack any military target and avoid any collateral damage. He said one of the targets initially picked was a military administrative complex, however, the PAF command decided against hitting it.
“As a result of engaging our targets, no human life was affected. Staying within our jurisdiction, six targets were locked. And we carried out the strike,” he said.
He said the objective of the strikes was to show “we have the capacity and the will to respond, but we deliberately avoided the escalation path.”
“Pakistan is not pushing for war. We engaged our targets in open air, we deliberately avoided escalation. We could easily have taken the original targets, but we did not do that,” the DG ISPR said.
Pakistan has credible conventional responses designed to meet different contingencies – known as the policy of ‘Quid Pro Quo Plus.’ This has not only reinforced the credibility of Pakistan’s nuclear deterrence but has also helped restore confidence in conventional deterrence.
After experiencing humiliation at the hands of PAF in Feb 2019, India has gone on yet another arms and ammunition shopping spree, without understanding that it is in fact the man behind the machine and the will that matters.
In Laddakh India again suffered humiliation as China established its superiority and controlled the full spectrum of the conflict. The Chinese had calculated the morale and response capability of the Indian military. India stood embarrassed by a smaller force – Pakistan and was left paralyzed by a larger country- China, all within the span of a year.
However, the best sum up came from DG ISPR Major General Babar Iftikhar who while giving a recap of the Feb 2019 events said;
“WE GAVE THEM A BLOODY NOSE AND IT IS STILL HURTING”