Balakot and India's strategy
India takes a proactive stance against terror unlike softer approach earlier
India's response to the terrorist attack on the CRPF jawans at Pulwama in Jammu & Kashmir through an airstrike on the Maulana Masood Azhar led Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) terror launch pad in Balakot (in the Mansehra district of the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province of Pakistan) has showcased a paradigm shift in India's approach to combating terror. The Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) has described the attack as non-military and preemptive in nature and has stated that the objective of the action was not to wage war against the Pakistani state or the Pakistani army but in retaliation to the terrorists who carried out the Pulwama attack on February 14. According to Professor Anindya Jyoti Majumder who teaches international relations at Jadavpur University, Kolkata, the airstrike shows that the Modi Government has adopted a more "proactive stance" in combating terror when compared to the reactionary approach of the previous governments.
The airstrike is also significant because, for the first time, a nuclear weapons state has conducted an airstrike on the territory of another nuclear weapons state and therefore, at least from a nuclear deterrence perspective, the Indian action is very significant. According to deterrence theory, a nuclear weapon is not a military weapon but a political weapon and therefore, no state seeks first use of this weapon on its adversary because it most certainly will be followed by the use of the same weapon by the adversary and lead to the total destruction of both the parties. Therefore, through the threat of using these weapons, states seek to have an edge in negotiations and fulfill their national security and foreign policy objectives. This phenomenon is known as deterrence. Deterrence is particularly relevant in the context of Indo-Pak relations they are neighbours and the use of nuclear weapon by any one country will affect both the countries. Scholars like Professor S. Paul Kapur who is associated with the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School have highlighted the fragility of Indo-Pak deterrence because Pakistan seeks to deter all forms of Indian aggression through its nuclear umbrella based on the policy of first use and massive retaliation. The latter doctrine is particularly destabilising as it can lead to escalatory reactions by India. However, at least in the context of deterrence in the present scenario, the Balakot airstrike is too low in the escalation ladder to seriously challenge deterrence. This is because the Indian Government has repeatedly emphasised that this action was not an act of aggression against Pakistan but in self-defence and a part of India's war on terror. In fact, the Modi Government has also stated that the action has been taken on the basis of available intelligence reports which stated that more suicide attacks were being planned from these launch pads and hence, this action should not be considered an act of war but rather should be thought of as an act of self-defence.
India's action has been in keeping with the provisions of the International Law of War which expressly forbids a state to use force on the territory of another state except in self-defence (under Article 51 of the U.N. Charter). Although there is a debate regarding the recognition of the doctrine of preemptive self-defence in Article 51, traditional state practices have made it a part of customary international law; theoretical debates may go on, but at least India has not violated the International Law of War. But from the perspective of international law, the status of the captured Indian pilot Wing Commander Abhinanadan Varthaman on Pakistani soil would have been a major point of interest but the decision of Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan to release him will put an end to that debate as well as it played a big role in diffusing tensions.
Retired Air Force Chief Srinivasan Krishnaswamy asserts that while a military operation on the scale of a surgical strike or an air strike is proposed, planned, and executed by the armed forces, its responsibility is always borne by the Government. Therefore, the Government must be clear on the political and military objectives it intends to achieve through these actions because the results of military operations are never perfect. To succeed in international politics and to fulfill foreign policy and national security objectives, clever diplomacy along with military and economic might is essential for states. In fact, creation of international pressure on the adversary through clever diplomacy is one of the most recognised ways of fulfilling state foreign policy objectives.
The reactions of France, U.S., and China regarding India's actions show India is definitely ahead of Pakistan in terms of diplomacy, and in recent years, has had considerable success in branding Pakistan as a terrorist haven in the international arena. Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan's statement shows that Pakistan will attempt to use international forums like the U.N. and put international pressure on India in retaliation. The recent deployment of the Pakistani Air Force in Indian air space is proof of Pakistani intentions. These events can lead to escalation of tensions and can destabilise the region. Therefore, in this regard, Jawaharlal Nehru University Professor Rajesh Rajagopalan's view that Pakistani retaliation must be matched with Indian escalation is not only hawkish but also destabilising because now the focus should be de-escalation of tensions through diplomatic means and negotiations. However, the present state of Indo-Pak relations does show that tensions are definitely on the rise in South Asia which was notoriously termed as "the most dangerous place on Earth" by former U.S. President Bill Clinton.
(The author is a second-year
student of political science at the department of international relations in Jadavpur University, Kolkata. The views expressed are strictly personal)
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