The entire operation lasted about 20 minutes, and came days after the February 14 suicide bombing of a convoy of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) in Jammu and Kashmir’s Pulwama in which 40 troopers were killed. The JeM had claimed responsibility for the Pulwama attack.
Hours after the IAF’s operation, India’s foreign secretary, Vijay Gokhale, said this was an “absolutely necessary” attack on the proscribed terrorist group, which was readying for a major terrorist strike in India. “In an intelligence-led operation in the early hours of the day, India struck the biggest training camp of JeM in Balakot. In this operation, a very large number of JeM terrorists, trainers, senior commanders and groups of jihadis who were being trained for fidayeen action were eliminated,” Gokhale said. “This facility at Balakot was headed by Maulana Yousuf Azhar (alias Ustad Ghouri), the brother-in-law of Masood Azhar, chief of JeM,” he added.
People shout slogans celebrating Indian Air Force’s pre-emptive strike on terror outfit Jaish-e-Mohammed’s camp, in Amritsar on Tuesday. Photo: PTI
Gokhale made it clear this was a counter-terrorist strike that targeted only the JeM, not the Pakistan military or civilians. “The government of India is firmly and resolutely committed to taking all necessary measures to fight the menace of terrorism. Hence, this non-military pre-emptive action was specifically targeted at the JeM camp. The selection of the target was also conditioned by our desire to avoid civilian casualties,” he said.
Tuesday’s retaliatory air strikes are the first time since the 1971 Indo-Pakistan war that Indian combat aircraft crossed into Pakistan-held territory. Even during the Kargil war in 1999, when IAF fighters repeatedly struck Pakistan Army soldiers who had crossed into the Indian side of the LOC, great care was taken to ensure Indian aircraft did not violate the LoC. But in this case, military planners realised early that Pakistan would be prepared for ground strikes. Besides, the political need was for a more forceful response. That left air strikes as the only acceptable option.
Both sides have signed onto a confidence-building measure (CBM) that prohibits fixed wing aircraft from flying within 10 km of the LoC, and helicopters from coming closer than 5 km without informing the other side beforehand. By disregarding this, the IAF has sent a stern message to Islamabad. Since there are two Balakot towns, there was initial confusion over which target was struck, and how deep across the LoC it was. However, sources later confirmed that the strike occurred in Balakot in Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) province.
This raises serious questions over the capability of Pakistani air defences. Their porousness was first dramatically exposed in the US operation against Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad in 2011. They have now been exposed again by the IAF’s ability to strike 80 km into Pakistan without being intercepted or incurring casualties.
With PTI inputs