Twelve days after the Pulwama attack which killed 40 Central Reserve Police Force personel, Indian fighter planes crossed over into Pakistani airspace in the early hours of Tuesday to strike a Jaish-e-Mohammad training camp, India Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale said. A large number of people training for fidayeen [suicide] action were killed in this “non-military pre-emptive strike”, he said
Jaish-e-Mohammad had taken responsibility for the Pulwama attack.
Clearing up confusion
The initial news of the Indian Air Force entering Pakistani air space was acknowledged by the Pakistan Army spokesperson at 5.12 am. With scanty details from Pakistan and none from India initially, experts took some time to establish what exactly had happened. Within a few hours, however, it was clear: the Indian Air Force had gone for broke, targeting the area around Balakot in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. Initially, some had believed that the target was in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir.
Dhruva Jaishankar, Foreign Policy Fellow at the United States-based Brookings thinktank, explained the significant of Balakot: it was a Jaish-e-Mohammad hub.
An American academic at Johns Hopkins SAIS explained how the area was associated with India-focused terror groups such as Jaish-e-Mohammad and Lashkar-e-Taiba.
A huge step
This was the first time since the 1971 war that India had entered Pakistani airpsace.
It was also the first time that conventional airpower that been used by one nuclear power against another, said security expert Ankit Panda.
Scholar Ayesha Siddiqa pointed that even if one were to take at face value Pakistan’s statement that the Indian strikes had not caused any damage, the attack still represents a huge escalation.
Significantly, though, the move seemed to have ended the threat of nuclear retalitation by Pakistan, pointed out security experts KC Singh and Amitabh Mattoo.
Even as experts and jouralists scrambled for information, a narrative war began between India and Pakistan on how this was to be presented.
An academic at the Univeristy of Chicago pointed out that the Pakistan Army had tweeted out photos that claimed that the Indian air strike had done no damage.
Other commentators pointed that India and Pakistan were, rather delicately, not escalating matters.
Airstrikes between two nuclear armed powers can lead to some very destabilising consequences. However, most experts were of the view that Pakistan would not escalate matters beyond a point.
Lt. Gen DS Hooda, former General Officer Commanding-in-Chief of the Indian Army’s Northern Command, was also of the view that this would not lead to war. “As far as tension is concerned, I think there is bound to be some tension for some time,” he said. “But I don’t think we should be so worried about it, that this could lead to an all out war or something.”
However, Lt Gen HS Panag, former General Officer Commanding-in-Chief Northern Command and Central Command of the Indian Army, struck a contradictory note, argued that rather than play down the airstrike, “Pakistan will respond militarily”.