India’s Army Chief General Bipin Rawat said on Monday that a militant training camp in Pakistan’s Balakot that India said it had bombed earlier this year has been reactivated. India’s action had taken the nuclear-armed neighbours to the brink of war.
Despite many questions about what level of damage the attack had really caused, Rawat used the “reactivation” as evidence that the Balakot camp had indeed been affected by the Indian strike.
“Balakot has been reactivated by Pakistan very recently,” Rawat said at the Officers Training Academy in Chennai. “That shows that Balakot has been affected. It had been damaged and destroyed. And that is why people have got away from there and now it has been reactivated.”
If Pakistan has managed to reactivate the facility so soon after India’s bombing, what was the point in the first place?
This calls to mind some of the debates over India’s “surgical strikes”, an attack carried out across the Line of Control in 2016, in which it claimed to have destroyed a number of “launch pads” of militant outfits. The strikes were initially seen as audacious response to a Pakistani-supported militant attack on an Army camp at Uri, in Jammu and Kashmir, which resulted in the deaths of 19 soldiers.
Over time, however, the government’s chest-thumping over the surgical strikes prompted many people to question whether India was simply boasting about a successful tactic but had no overall strategy. Was the strike supposed to be debilitating? Was it intended to act as deterrence? In the event, it did neither, as demonstrated by the Pulwama attack by a Pakistan-supported militant earlier this year that left 40 Indian security personnel dead.
Similar questions have been asked about the Balakot strike, which, in addition to having an unclear outcome, also led to aerial jousting that caused India to lose a fighter jet and pilot in Pakistani territory. The pilot was later returned to India.
The main concern: if the strike was supposed to be a warning signal and a deterrent, what will India do now that the camp has been reactivated? Pakistan will, presumably, be better prepared for a repeat operation and more willing to retaliate. It may even consider any intrusion an act of war. An Indian attempt to one-up the Balakot strike would risk pushing the two countries up the escalation ladder.
If that is the case, what was the point of the Balakot strike? Click here to join the debate.
Some might point to the obvious advantage from a domestic standpoint. The attack bolstered Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s image immensely, and saw the principal Opposition almost disappear from the public eye for nearly a month during the 2019 election campaign.
The current context may add another perspective. After India’s decision to unilaterally revoke Jammu and Kashmir’s special status and put the Kashmir valley under lockdown, Pakistan has been much more belligerent with its militant assets across the Line of Control. But the tensions following the Balakot attack mean that India will have to be much more circumspect before attempting a similar action if it wants to avoid war.
But none of this provides satisfying explanations for whether the Balakot strike achieved a strategic objective in the first place. Did it?
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