Indian governments in the future will be expected to take Balakot-type action after terrorist attacks
It was the summer of 2002. Memories of the attack on Parliament were fading, but the wounds caused by it were still raw. The armed forces of both Pakistan and India faced each other on the front. In those days, the sight of the convoys of soldiers approaching the northern border raised questions and doubts — would there be a war? Would it escalate into a nuclear conflict?
I still remember the day when uncertainty loomed large in one of the army encampments near Jammu. In the bombing that night, one of our farmers and his daughter were killed. Across the border too, innocent, helpless people were being killed.
It was the time when Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who was running the government, had seriously contemplated a full-scale war, but that did not happen. At that time, the people close to those in power had given two reasons for this.
The first was the United States’ pressure. Washington at that time badly needed the Islamabad-Rawalpindi combine. The 9/11 catastrophe had taken place a few months before. After this, America had launched an attack on Afghanistan. The Pentagon wanted Pakistan to not only provide access to its roads to American squads but also extend every possible help to them. Pakistan’s argument was that its army is mostly deployed on its border with India. So, America should not expect much assistance from Pakistan. This is the reason why the US was pressuring India to remove its army from the borders. During the Kargil conflict, the US had worked as a mediator and Vajpayee had not forgotten it. Hence, he had agreed.
But, those associated with internal security and intelligence agencies at that time say that our army’s morale was high, but the equipment and weaponry were not up to scratch. Therefore, Vajpayee thought it better to oblige the US. It’s a different matter altogether that the army sources have always condemned and criticised this argument. Whatever be the reality, the war was put off and it was also decided that India will follow the old practice and tactics to fight terrorism in the coming years. The next prime minister, Manmohan Singh, also decided to follow the same path for a decade, but Narendra Modi has changed this doctrine.
Even if we set aside the political debate which has been going on in both the countries after the aerial surgical strike, one thing is certain that this move by Modi has actually institutionalised this line of resistance even for the next government, irrespective of who heads it. In the future, if India is attacked by terrorists, then New Delhi’s rulers would be expected to take similar action.
At present, India has been engulfed in the heated debate over what we gained from this attack. The way Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan released wing commander Abhinandan Varthaman after the aerial conflict, banned Jamaat-ud Dawa and Jaish-eMohammed, detained Masood Azhar’s son and brother, and even gave indications that he would confiscate the properties of these organisations, holds out hope. Not only this, by expelling the culture minister of Punjab province, Fayyaz ul Hassan Chohan, for his anti-Hindu remarks, the Pakistani Prime Minister has tried to send a message to the world that Pakistan is now changing.
Concluding on the basis of these baby steps that Pakistan is changing would be hasty. Experience shows that Pakistan changes its strategy from time to time to save the terrorists who have been nurtured there. After the Western forces arrived in Afghanistan, Pakistan transferred some of the terrorist camps from that country to Pakistan occupied Kashmir and other border areas of India. It was done to avoid embarrassment on international platforms and make these camps accessible to the misguided Indian youths.
There is also a fear that conspiring army officials may have attached some of these terrorist camps to their cantonments. Pakistan had taken Osama bin Laden out of the Tora Bora mountains and given him shelter near the Abbottabad cantonment. Right now Azhar is reportedly undergoing medical treatment in an army hospital in Pakistan. His son and brother have also been put under house arrest under the supervision of army. Is this an effort to save them?
It’s clear that we will have to keep a tight vigil over steps taken by Pakistan. The midnight’s children Salman Rushdie wrote about have been born together but their relationship is not one based on trust. It is a tragedy that more than 1.5 billion people living on both sides of the border have inherited this crown of thorns.