The politics of Balakot

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The politics of Balakot

Tuesday, 19 March 2019 | Deepak Sinha

The politics of Balakot

Notwithstanding Pakistan’s best efforts to steer the Pulwama narrative to its advantage, what should worry us is the political orchestration that has not ceased yet

There is something about old proverbs. Take, for example, an old adage by Abraham Lincoln: “You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time”. Certainly, this maxim is spot-on with regards to the Pulwama tragedy and its repercussions. Despite Pakistan’s best efforts to steer the narrative to its advantage, the truth that is emerging — though in dribs and drabs — paints a very different picture from what it would have wanted us to believe.

For example, take a look at perceptions in Pakistan about the suicide attack itself. Not only most of us, but also much of the world, especially analysts focussing on this region, had little hesitation in accepting the involvement of Pakistan-based terrorist group, Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM), in the suicide bombing attack, especially since the JeM itself publicly claimed responsibility. Yet, let alone the Pakistani establishment, not even one respected journalist or analyst over there uttered a word of condemnation against the JeM for this heinous act. Instead, they insisted that the attack was motivated by the brutal treatment meted out to Kashmiri locals by the Indian security forces.

This is contrary to what has widely been reported about Pakistani Senator Mushahid Hussain Sayed, a senior politician and former Cabinet minister, who quite categorically stated that “what happened in Pulwama in February, in my view, was Pakistan’s finest hour after the nuclear tests of 1998.” Moreover, while Pakistan’s Foreign Minister acknowledged JeM chief Masood Azhar’s presence in Pakistan, the Director-General of Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) blandly contradicted him a day later, unequivocally stating that the JeM does not exist in Pakistan as it is a “proscribed terrorist organisation”.

Similarly, with regard to the Indian response, the ISPR spokesperson was the first one to admit that the Indian Air Force (IAF) had crossed the Line of Control (LoC) and carried out a strike in the vicinity of Balakot. He, however, attempted to mislead and obfuscate the issue by hinting that this attack was in the vicinity of the village, in close proximity to the LoC in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK), and not the town by that name in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, deep inside Pakistan, where it actually struck. While the IAF claimed to have hit the terrorist training camp, the spokesman insisted that no damage or casualty was inflicted to the “seminary” located over there. However, the cordoning of the area by the Pakistani Army and its refusal till date to allow any access raises questions and suggests an attempt to cover up.

Finally, there was the confusion about two Indian fighter aircraft having been shot down with both pilots taken prisoners. It, however, turned out that the IAF’s claim at that time of having lost one MIG-21, piloted by Wing Commander Abhinandan after he had downed a Pakistani F-16, was correct. Bizarrely, not only has Pakistan continued to deny the loss of its own aircraft, it even insists that the F-16s in its possession were not involved in operations in this sector. This despite the IAF having produced evidence.

Clearly, obfuscation and deceit are embedded in the DNA of Pakistan, especially in the manner it deals with India and the international community. We have been experiencing this since decades. Remember, Pakistan denied any connection to the so-called “raiders”, who nearly captured Srinagar in 1948 or to the “militants”, who occupied the Kargil heights in 1999, only to recant and accept its involvement subsequently. It isn’t as if it reserved such treatment for India alone as Iran and Afghanistan have also found to their cost. Therefore, in the present instance, to have expected Pakistan to behave any differently was sheer fantasy, especially given that the military uses proxy war to retain its pre-eminent role within the country and the region.

The sad truth is that its very foundation was built on the British construct — that it was religious antagonism and not its requirement for a pliable state that would help protect its interests in the region — which resulted in the horrors of partition. The formation of Bangladesh put paid to the two-nation theory and secret Cabinet documents in the UK, subsequently declassified, showed up the deceitful lengths the British had gone to in furthering their own interests.

Leaving aside Pakistan’s desperate attempts to change perceptions what should be of immense concern to all right-thinking people, here is the horrendous manner in which this issue is being used by politicians and the media to gain attention for their selfish agenda even if it is at the cost of the nation’s interest. Neither free speech nor the looming elections justify such crass behaviour, especially since it is impacting the credibility and apolitical nature of our armed forces.

While Prime Minister Narendra Modi deserves credit for his bold decision to aggressively respond in the manner that he did, it is no excuse for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to use the strike to tom-tom its nationalistic credentials, going so far as to shamefully depict Wing Commander Abhinandan in posters used for election rallies. Prime Minister Modi may well scream ‘Jai Jawan, Jai Kisan’ from the rooftops but it has not in any way stopped his Government from refusing to grant One Rank One Pension (OROP) to military veterans or opposing the grant of Non Functional Upgrade (NFU) in the Supreme Court using all manner of lies. That the NFU is already authorised to the Civil Services and the Central Armed Police Forces, thereby changing long-standing civil-military parity, has been deliberately ignored. Their efforts to humiliate and lower the prestige and standing of the armed forces continues unhindered.

It isn’t as if other political parties, including the Congress, have behaved any less hypocritically. On the one hand, they have “officially” supported and praised the action of the IAF, while at the same time senior leaders of these very parties have questioned the efficacy of the attack, despite the Air Chief having clearly stated that the targets selected were destroyed as they had planned. It appears that they believe that the only manner in which the steadfastness and strength of character ‘Modi’ displayed on this occasion can be negated is by deliberately destroying the credibility of our military’s achievements. While we may be uncertain of who will succeed at the hustings, there is absolutely no doubt that our armed forces have lost out yet again. 

(The writer is a military veteran, a consultant with the Observer Research Foundation and Visiting Senior Fellow with The Peninsula Foundation, Chennai)

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