Pulwama attack & Balakot Indian Air Force Strike

On 14 February 2019, 78 vehicles convoy was transporting more than 2,500 Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel from Jammu to Srinagar. The convoy left Jammu early morning and was scheduled to reach its destination before sunset.

At Lethpora (near Awantipora) in Pulwama district, a car carrying explosives rammed into a bus carrying  security personnel. The car was driven by a 22 year old suicide bomber. As a result, a blast took place which killed 40 CRPF personnel and injured many others.

Jaish-e-Mohammed, Pakistan-based Islamist militant group, was behind the attack. On February 18, four Army personnel were killed in an encounter with terrorists in Pulwama, taking the total death toll of CRPF and army men to 44.

Balakot Indian Air Force Strike, 2019
On 26 February 2019, at around 3:30 am (according to Indian Standard Time), the Indian air force conducted airstrikes at Balakot in Pakistan. The airstrikes were conducted in response to the Pulwama attack. 12 Mirage 2000H jets of IAF crossed the Line of Control in
Kashmir and performed airstrikes on Jaish-e-Mohammed-operated terrorist training camp at Balakot.

According to Indian establishment, the jets killed more than 200 militants and returned unharmed into Indian airspace.

Pakistan establishment verified the violation of airspace near Muzaffarabad. However, it rejected the Indian claim that jets hit a terrorist camp. According to Pakistan, military forced the Indian jets to retreat and in haste they dropped ammunition in vacant fields, causing no causalities.

How is it different from previous responses by India?
Post terror attacks emanating from Pakistan, India has opted for different choices. After the 26/11 2008 Mumbai terror attack, India used diplomatic pressure on Pakistan. After the 2016 Uri attack, India conducted limited ground-based operations called surgical strike.

In response to Pulwama attack, this is the first time that Air Force has been used and that too inside Pakistan.

History of using Air force
Since 1971 war, both the nations have not used air power beyond LOC. Even during kargil war, when the Vajpayee government allowed the use of IAF, it did not allow IAF to cross the LoC.

Government used the term “Intelligence-led operation”
The Indian government claimed that target for IAF was based on intelligence, and was not selected arbitrarily.

Government also used the term “non-military preemptive action”
India used the phrase “non-millitary” to convey that the act was not an act of war. India targeted a terrorist training camp and not Pakistan military or civilians.

India also used the phrase “preemptive action” to suggest that the airstrike was not an act of revenge or retribution but an act of self-defence to prevent a likely terror attack in the future

What was the purpose of Balakot strike?
Post terror strike, the purpose of a military action is either compellence or deterrence. Compellence refers to set of actions that force an opponent to take some action. It is the opposite of deterrence. Deterrence refers to set of actions which are intended to prevent an opponent from taking some action.

In India’s case, compellence refers to military and political actions by India to compel Pakistan to stop terror; deterrence refers to fear of punishment to Pakistan for supporting terror attack in India.

Post Pulwama, India has used bilateral diplomatic ties and international pressure to compel Pakistan to stop terror. Moreover, the Balakot air strike may act as a strong deterrent and prevent Pakistan from patronizing terror.

Precedent for future action
The Balakot airstrike may set a precedent for future action by India; i.e. post terrorist attack in India, use of airpower to demolish terror camps in Pakistan. The public in India may demand such a response after every terror incident. Thus, the Balakot strike may act as a single important point in future of India-Pakistan relations.

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