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Political Symbolism, Exaggerated Media Coverage: Analysts on Balakot airstrikes

Modi is not the first prime minister to have thought of hitting terrorist targets in Pakistan, says Siddharth Varadarajan

Wednesday February 27, 2019 1:52 PM, ummid.com News Network

India Balakot Pakistan Map

Mumbai: A day after Indian Air Force (IAF) jet fighters crossed over into Pakistani territories and dropped bombs in Balakot, national and international analysts while refusing to believe the claims taking rounds in local media said the airstrikes will not fulfill any of its intended tasks except some political mileage.

“What they hit is speculation for now — they say they hit a terrorist camp, but a lot of intelligence sources say those camps in Pakistan had been cleaned out in recent days,” Rahul Bedi, an analyst at the London-based Jane’s Information Group, which tracks the defense industry, told The New York Times.

“This is more political symbolism than anything else. Mr. Modi had to show some demonstrable action on India’s part, ahead of elections", Rahul said referring to Indian airstrikes in Balakot described by Foreign Secretary VK Gokhale as "non-military pre-emptive action".

"India's air force "struck the biggest training camp of JeM in Balakot. A large number of JeM terrorists were killed. The strike avoided civil casualties," Gokhale said while talking with the media in New Delhi.

Gokhale didn't give the number of terrorists actually killed in the airstrikes. But, citing "unnamed government sources" television channels said more than 300 terrorirsts were killed in the attack.

"The Indian Air Force was tasked with executing a difficult and risky mission and the government has declared the operation a success – though without sharing any verifiable information", senior jpurnalist and editor, Siddharth Varadarajan, wrote in The Wire.

"Perhaps the official readout is muted because the greater the noise that is made, the greater the likelihood that Pakistan’s military leadership will feel compelled to retaliate. However, the unverifiable and seemingly exaggerated accounts of the airstrike making their way to the Indian media will make it very difficult for the Pakistani side to do nothing", he added.

Stating that airstrikes had three objectives - military, diplomatic and political, Siddharth Varadarajan is sceptical about the airstrikes fulfilling the first two objectives.

"Its military objective was to tell the Jaish-e-Muhammad and other Pakistan-based terrorist groups in the wake of the terrorist attack on a CRPF convoy in Pulwama, Kashmir, that the safe havens provided to them by the Pakistani military are not so safe after all. The diplomatic objective was to get the the world at large to see that they cannot afford a business-as-usual approach to Pakistan’s support for terrorism. And the political objective was to send a message to the domestic audience on the eve of a general election – that Prime Minister Narendra Modi is a leader who has the “political will” to set everything right and make India great again", he wrote.

"Of these, it is only the political objective which Prime Minister Narendra Modi can be confident of having achieved", he wrote.

"Just as the 2016 surgical strikes proved ineffective in preventing a Pulwama, the Balakot airstrike will not protect India from future terrorist attacks. Jubilation over the unofficial claim of India having killed 300 Jaish terrorists – even if true – is based on the misplaced notion that terrorists fight like a regular army and require large formations in order to wreak havoc", he added.

"Modi is not the first prime minister to have thought of hitting terrorist targets in Pakistan. Two of his predecessors – Manmohan Singh and Atal Bihari Vajpayee – sat with their commanders to explore kinetic options in the wake of the 2001 parliament attack and the 2008 terror strike on Mumbai before realising that the solution they sought would not come through that route", Siddharth Varadarajan wrote.

"‘Talks and terror cannot go hand in hand’ is the new mantra but both Vajpayee and Manmohan Singh had much greater success tackling terror when they found creative ways of engaging with Pakistan and building confidence within the Valley than when they shut the door on engagement", he added.

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