The Fallout of The Balakote Strike

Balakote Strike

Notwithstanding the claims and counter-claims of India and Pakistan, one thing is now acknowledged from both sides that the Indian Air Force planes entered the Pakistani territory and returned back safely. That is pretty embarrassing for the Pakistani authorities – both the Prime Minister Imran Khan who, only a few days back, promised retaliation and the Army Chief, General Qamar Bajwa, who while visiting the Line of Control yesterday assured the nation that the armed forces were fully prepared to deal with any escalation move from the other side.

The Indian narrative of hitting out several terror camps is at best puffed up with very rich claims of killing nearly “300 terrorists” at a time when even the armies retreat from higher reaches due to unwholesome weather. Regardless, this is a major escalation that, in my view, is designed to gain several tactical and strategic advantages, both in India and inside Pakistan.

For a start, in collaboration with a jingoistic and pliant media, this has given an unprecedented advantage to Prime Minister Modi’s image as a person “who can teach Pakistan a lesson”. It has also immediately neutralised the criticism that Modi has been receiving about his failure in stopping the Pulwama fidayeen attack that killed scores of paramilitary forces. “The strikes” as they are being presented by the India media will immensely help the ruling BJP and Mr. Modi in his election campaign. The initial reaction that has followed the incident is that the opposition has been forced to abandon its criticism of Modi and run to congratulate their military forces in “successfully” carrying out attacks against the unknown terrorists.

Irrespective of whether it caused any damage or not, the strike will expose the government and the army to a lot of domestic criticism, particularly from the opposition and the journalists who have traditionally been aligned with the House of Sharifs or those part-timers who have been associated with the western-funded NGOs for their day jobs, and are usually very vocal against the army and the government in their guise as media commentators. Inside Pakistan, the aim of these strikes seems to be empowering the western-friendly opposition groups that had been cornered with the help of initiating corruption cases against them and the tough attitude of the government in refusing to make any deals. Such a scenario would also support the regional calculus of several powers – India, Iran and the US in Afghanistan, and Iran and India in their desire to frustrate Pakistan, in short-term, for its efforts to widen its economic portfolio through its deep relations with China or nascent association with Saudi Arabia.

The aftermath of the Indian Air Force strike would severely test the resolve of the government. If Imran Khan and the army choose to ignore it by playing it down as the military PR division, ISPR, is doing since morning, though unsuccessfully, it will erode the public confidence and again expose them to an unending barrage of criticism. But if the government strikes back, as promised by the prime minister in his address to nation few days back, it opens a massive room for escalation that Pakistan cannot afford – both in operational or financial terms. In addition, there would be hardly any support for any type of Pakistani retaliation, and it is also quite hard to gain any international sympathy. The stakes for Pakistan are very high and it seems to enjoy a very little room for manoeuvre at the moment!

Murtaza Shibli is a writer and consultant on Muslim issues in Europe and South Asia. He is also the editor of ‘7/7: Muslim Perspectives’, a book that explores the British Muslim reaction to the London bombings. Twitter: murtaza_shibli

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