Well before dawn on February 26, twelve Mirage 2000 fighter jets of the Indian Air Force (IAF) destroyed terrorist launch pads at Chakothi and Muzaffarabad in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (POK) and the biggest terrorist camp of Jaish-e-Mohammed (J-e-M) at Balakot in Mansehra district in Pakistan’s Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa.
Balakot terrorist camp was jointly run by Lashker-e-Toiba (L-e-T) and J-e-M under the direct supervision of Inter Services Intelligence. The camp provided training to hardcore terrorists, especially suicide bombers. The terrorist camp had a control room, parade-ground, gymnasium, swimming pool and conference room.
Indian Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale also mentioned in a press briefing after the strikes that demolition of the Balakot terrorist camp was on the basis of “intelligence” inputs and was essential as terrorists were planning more suicide operations.
The intelligence reports pinpointed about 30 terrorist camps and all were located near different military installations. The proximity of terrorist camps to military establishments provides security to the camps and terrorists utilise the facilities of the defence forces, including the instructors, to impart training to terror recruits. High security for terrorist training camps is essential as local residents oppose such camps near their localities.
A decision was taken at the highest level that the terrorist attack in Pulwama, in which around 40 valiant security personnel were killed must be avenged, as it was important to send a stringent message to Islamabad. Balakot was zeroed in upon as it was one of the biggest training camps and was headed by Yusuf Azhar, who was the mastermind behind the hijacking of IC-814 in 1999. Yusuf is J-e-M Chief Masood Azhar’s brother-in-law. Balakot was also selected becaue Abdul Ghazi, who planned the Pulwama attack, was also trained in this camp. Balakot camp has been operative for 15 years and is notorious for providing intense training to hardcore terrorists. The camp was located in a densely forested area, on a hillock and far removed from the civilian population. Therefore, the airstrike caused no damage to the civilian population and only terrorists were eliminated.
Delhi has the right to annihilate terrorist camps as extremists are trained and infiltrated into India. Hence the Balakot airstrike was a defensive action. According to reports, 250 to 300 terrorists were killed in these attacks including Yousuf Azhar and a senior ISI officer who was present in the camp during the aerial attack.
The air attacks were significant and attracted world attention mainly because the airplanes of one nuclear powered country entered the airspace of another nuclear armed nation and destroyed terrorist camps.
In September 2016 India carried out a surgical strike in which seven launch pads were destroyed and about 40 terrorists and their trainers were killed. However, all the destroyed targets were in POK which is considered an integral part of India. But in surgical strike II, IAF aircraft bombarded Balakot in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, meaning the attack was in Pakistani territory.
The Pakistan army downplayed the attack as they cannot compete with India in conventional warfare and use of nuclear war-heads is difficult. Also, Pakistan is currently passing through an economic crisis and is seeking a bailout package from International Monetary Fund (IMF). Islamabad has to fulfil about 18 stipulations imposed by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) to clear the grey list by May 2019, failing which they will place Pakistan in the blacklist. If that happens, the IMF will not bail out the country.
Secondly, Islamabad has already waged a proxy war and its agents are carrying out terrorist activities in India. After Pulwama, a Hizbul Mujahedeen-trained Kashmiri youth threw a grenade at Jammu bus stand on March 7 in which two persons were killed and about 32 injured. The accused was trained by Hizbul commander Farooq Ahmad Bhat with the intention of creating communal polarisation in Jammu.
India has successfully sent a stringent message to Islamabad through surgical strike II. The possibility of Pakistan defence forces attacking Indian installations are remote but Indian defence forces must be ready for such contingencies. The chances are that ISI trained action agents and support agents will carry out few terrorist activities so that communal harmony in the country is disturbed. It is the duty of security forces to enhance the vigil in markets and crowded places so that it becomes difficult for terrorists to carry out such activities. If fanatics are able to execute terrorist acts, people should keep their calm and not resort to violence.
(The author, a New Delhi-based strategic analyst, can be contacted at email@example.com)