South Asia and Beyond

India, Pakistan Drew Different Lessons From Balakot

On Simply Nitin this week, we look back at a groundbreaking event: India’s strike five years ago on a jihadi camp in Balakot, in Pakistan’s northwestern province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. It was in retaliation for the attack on Feb 2019 in Pulwama J&K, on a bus carrying CRPF personnel in which 40 were killed.

A land-based operation was considered risky given that India had carried out a surgical strike by special forces earlier, and the Pakistanis would be prepared this time. An airstrike was deemed less risky and for this purpose a “package” of aircraft including Mirages and Su-30MKi fighters were mobilized. The attack was carried out with no loss of aircraft on the Indian side.

The lessons learnt are important here. For India, it was proof that there existed a window between a full conventional response and nuclear retaliation. India demonstrated its ability to strike a terrorist target with no collateral damage to civilians. The strike involved the use of precision, standoff weapons.

This is the paradigm for India, a far cry from its non-response following the attack on Parliament in Dec. 2001 by five gunmen, or the 26/11 attack in Mumbai by Pakistani gunmen.

Pakistan claimed that the Balakot strike underscored the point that India did not escalate since it was deterred by its nuclear weapons.

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The Indian Air Force may have to review some of its protocols with its pilots. The downing of Wg. Cdr. Abhinandan’s MG-21 jet, his capture and the hoopla that followed could have been avoided perhaps. It did take away some of the sheen of India’s strike. Not to forget the downing of an air force helicopter in a “friendly fire” incident.

The US was neutral, working the phones in Delhi and Rawalpindi/Islamabad to ensure things didn’t get out of hand. But the view in Washington is that India and Pakistan are willing to use military force in the event of a grave provocation. The US appreciated India’s use of the words “non-military pre-emptive action” to describe the Balakot strike, a clear signal that it was not interested in escalating the matter.

No Pakistani military installation was attacked, no civilian areas were hit. Interestingly, even Pakistan, when describing its retaliatory airstrikes, said these focused on non-military targets and no civilian lives were lost.

Tune in for these and other details on Simply Nitin.

Nitin A. Gokhale

Left to himself, Nitin A. Gokhale would rather watch films and sports matches but his day job as a media entrepreneur, communications specialist, analyst and author, leaves him little time to indulge in his primary interests. Gokhale in fact started his career in journalism in 1983 as a sports reporter. Since then he has, in the past 41 years, traversed the entire spectrum across print, broadcast and digital space. One of South Asia's leading strategic analysts, Gokhale has moved on from conventional media to become an independent media entrepreneur running three niche digital platforms—BharatShakti, StratNewsGlobal and Interstellar—besides undertaking consultancy and training workshops in communications for military institutions, corporates and individuals. Now better known for his conflict coverage and strategic analyses, Gokhale has lived and reported from India’s North-east for 23 years between 1983 and 2006, been on the ground at Kargil in the summer of 1999 and also brought us live coverage from Sri Lanka’s Eelam War IV between 2006-2009.    An alumni of the Asia-Pacific Centre for Security Studies in Hawaii, Gokhale now writes, lectures and analyses security and strategic matters in Indo-Pacific and travels regularly to US, Europe, Australia, South and South-East Asia to take part in various seminars and conferences. Gokhale is also a popular visiting faculty at India’s Defence Services Staff College, the three war colleges, India's National Defence College, College of Defence Management and the IB’s intelligence school.