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Hari Jaisingh
Hari Jaisingh
Opinion

Dirty politics over IAF’s Balakot air strike

Hari Jaisingh

Come high stakes poll of 2019. Everything gets politicized, even the most sensitive security issue of the IAF’s daring Balakot airstrike. I believe the starter in this dirty political game was BJP Chief Amit Shah who went to the public with the casualty figure of 250 in the airstrike.

Did he get this figure from government sources or directly from Prime Minister Narendra Modi, his closest associate from Gujarat days? I am not sure about it since it remains a closely guarded secret so far.

But the damage has already been done with some opposition leaders even raising “doubts” and asking for “proof” of the February 26 Balakot airstrike. This is highly regrettable since the “poll rat race” has got intensified. Digvijay Singh of the Congress joined Mahbooba Mufti and Mamata Banerjee on Sunday (March 3) seeking the evidence of the strike. The maverick Congress leader said, “Like the US had given solid proof of the Osama Bin Laden operation to the world, we should also do it for our airstrike”.

How could Digvijay Singh compare the massive “Osama bin Laden operation” with a routine Balakot airstrike in response to Pakistan-sponsored Pulwama blast by its JeM trained local Kashmiri suicide bomber against the CRPF convoy going to Srinagar. Even the US establishment took months before it came out with sketchy outlines about Osama’s sea burial. Does the irresponsible Congress leader realise that he is indirectly blaming the Indian Air Force for misleading the nation? Doesn’t he know that the Indian armed forces are highly credible and professional in their operations and that they are nobody’s political fiefdom.

Be that as it may. Amidst the prevailing controversial atmosphere, Air Chief B S Dhanoa on Monday (March 4) said that the “Air Force is not in a position to clarify how many people were inside (the target). We don’t count human casualties. We count what targets have been hit or not hit”. He said it is for the government to provide details on the number of terrorists killed. The IAF Chief has set the record straight. And the IAF has now given “satellite images” report to the government. It refutes the Reuters’ Planet Labs images report. The IAF had hit the intended targets with precision and success.

With the pre-emptive strike across the LoC, the Indian Air Force has shown its ability to perform a highly complex mission which required excellent coordination by a variety of aircraft and skills. This was amply demonstrated by the IAF. So, the opposition leaders need not waste time and energy in politicizing the issue. They ought to realise that instead of hurting the Narendra Modi’s NDA government politically, they are only hurting the sensitivities of the IAF.

Not that the Indian Armed Forces would get “demoralized” by such petty political games. Still, I expect the opposition leaders to rise above personal and party lines and go along with the national mainstream of thinking and action. A word of caution for PM Modi. It is wrong and unethical to call any opposition leader raising an issue as anti-national and Pakistani agent! He must not forget we are a democracy, not a dictatorial regime!

As it is, there are much bigger issues which remain to be addressed as Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan, who owes his survival to the army, has been blowing hot and cold during the past few days along with his “peace overtures”, seeking a dialogue with New Delhi.

Can terrorism and bilateral talks go together? We are familiar with Islamabad’s track record in this respect. It has a negative mindset of its own, which is controlled by the ISI and the army. In this complex setting, I believe no purpose will be served by the process of dialogue. The only choice before us is to wait and watch on how Pakistan’s situation gets shaped in the future.

We also cannot be sure how sincere and serious is Islamabad’s “action” against Jaish-e-Muhammed (JeM) persons, including the banning of Jamaat-Ud-Dawa (JuD) and Falah-e-Insaniat Foundation (FIF).

Getting back to our domestic scene, I expect our leaders not to politicize issues and non-issues since we have quite a major task before us. That is not a political task, but highly complex professional job which has to be entrusted to high calibre persons in the field with ‘no politics’ reputation.

Second, we have to work out a credible plan for better civil-military coordination. The absence of such coordination was also very much visible during Pakistan’s 9/11 Jihadi strike in Mumbai.

Third, we ought to strengthen our infrastructure of the statecraft which has often exposed India’s weaknesses in the face of Islamabad’s ISI proactive operations not only in Kashmir but also in other parts of the country.

Fourth, we have to evolve a credible long-term policy on dealing with Terrorism. For a democratic polity like ours, we must work out a clear policy of “no-negotiations” with Terrorists and their patrons. There should not be any ambiguity about this.

Fifth, it is equally pertinent to work out a strategic policy on tackling cross-border terrorist attacks. In this connection, we ought to strengthen our combat-ready military units to keep the country’s options open for an effective all-time response against cross-border terrorist activities.

In this context, I agree with former Chief of the Indian Navy Arun Prakash that: “No sane South Asian wants war and if Kashmir continues to remain a casus belli, we must undertake an agonizing policy reappraisal. While the army continues to guard J & K against external intrusions, it needs to evolve a long-term strategy; “civilian in nature, to restore peace”. How to work out such a long term “civilian strategy” and what should be the nature of this, are formidable challenges before the powers-that-be. This is not an easy task since there are wheels within wheels in J & K’s civilian state of affairs.

As it is, Kashmiris are virtually in a state of fear – the fear of the gun as of the unknown. What is regrettable is that most human rights organizations have focused attention on the wrongs done to the militants and their civilian operators, ignoring hired assassins as who have inflicted deep wounds on people to keep the Valley in turmoil. Amnesty International knows well that it is Pakistan which is motivating, training, arming and financing the activities of its militants, yet not a word to condemn Pakistan is ever written.

Take the latest Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) at Abu Dhabi where India’s External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj was invited as a “guest of honour”. Sushma did her best to convey India’s concern on State-sponsored terror from across the border.

However, the adoption of Pakistan’s resolutions with “uncharitable reference” to India’s Kashmir was disquieting. What is overlooked is the fact that India is “home” to the world’s third largest Muslim population of 180 million, and has followed broad secular policies, ensuring equal rights for the Muslims as enshrined in the Indian constitution. Mercifully, the key deliverable, the Abu Dhabi Declaration, is silent on Kashmir unlike last year! Well, India has to press forward on the right path.

Amidst the ongoing turmoil, we all need to remember that the gun is not the way to bring about civilian changes. We have to build our society based on reason and peaceful ways. By taking to the gun, the Kashmiris are merely raising the price of change in civilized democratic society like ours.

Finally, the gun is not a civilized way. And those who do believe in the democratic process will get nothing by taking to the gun, my dear Kashmiris!