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View: How Balakot airstrikes changed the game

The Indian leadership feared escalation, thus creating the perception of India being a soft state.

TOI Contributor|
Mar 13, 2019, 10.47 AM IST
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View: How Balakot airstrikes changed the game
An Indian Air Force (IAF) fighter jet in a day and night exercise during Exercise Vayu Shakti 2019
By Rajyavardhan Rathore

I know that moment when soldiers in their combat gear huddle together in the dark of the night for a hushed mission briefing. The quick clanking of rifles as they are loaded, the stealthy march towards the objective. That moment when fear of the unknown is strangely overpowered by a heightened sense of responsibility. As if it is the clarion call for action, where you become the point man for the entire country.

I remember, as a soldier, how the military always performed with precision when it had clear objectives. An able civilian leadership helps bring exactly that clarity. Terror attacks on India by Pakistan proxies and Indian leaders condemning them have been the two aspects of a vicious and unending cycle of violence. A primary reason for this is such condemnations never led to any perceptible change in Pakistan’s attitude towards India.

Over decades Pakistan had learnt to live with them, her only response being strong denials. The Indian leadership feared escalation, thus creating the perception of India being a soft state. Pakistan has always leveraged this fear by keeping the Kashmir bogey alive to meet its ulterior motives.

I remember, as a soldier, the onus was always on us to be alert all through, to detect and counter if possible before they could strike. On the other hand the enemy could conveniently, without fear, plan when, where and how to strike. But years later, this seems to be changing. We are finally breaking out of the cycle.

Let me put it in perspective. Soldiers want peace, but at times you have to fight for that very peace. I have lost my men, my friends in action. I remember the first time I wrote a letter to the family of my jawan, who was martyred. I wrote “everyone has to die, blessed are those who die protecting their motherland.” I was just 24 then. As young officers, we would ask when do we take the war to the enemy, when do we make him feel the pain of receiving body bags. 24 years later, we have taken the war to them.

We have lost our men and material for far too long. But in a far drift from what was traditionally considered normal India is not only fielding, it is batting too. Suddenly, from a soft and predictable state, we are now a sharp formidable force. Our enemy can no longer sleep in peace. For those pressing for a softer approach, make no mistake; the enemy did not show any mercy for decades towards our peace overtures and negotiations, and may still take some more time. But there are times when you have to brace for war to bring back peace.

Those seeking answers over the number of kills on the other side are missing the big picture. It is almost like showing them a military tank and their responding with a “yeh kitna mileage deta hai.” Dear cynics, please stop counting. For the first time in ages India’s enemies are feeling unsafe, their safe havens are less safe.

A 5 am tweet! Why such hurry for explanation! If nothing really happened, then why scramble jets for a quick face saver of a botched mission? Why has the site at Balakot been cordoned off? Why were no media allowed to visit the bombed area, with reports aplenty that the dead are being buried in the very grounds of the madrasa?

The reasons are clear. Casualties have been heavy and the heart of a terror centre has been annihilated. Never in their dreams did the enemy expect a strike 85 km from the LoC and beyond the international border. Never did they dream that the India they knew would be bold enough to go for air strikes. But alas, Pakistan still has its sympathisers who would rather believe Pakistan’s version than trust our forces.

Let us analyse what has happened in the last five years. The military is the same, people are the same, armaments (no thanks to UPA 1 and 2) are the same, so what has changed in bringing this tectonic shift in New India’s response to terrorism?

To me, it is our renewed ability to choose the first move. At a place, situation and moment of our choice. And a renewed faith instilled in the minds of 1.3 billion people by the country’s leadership that Pakistan cannot get away with the old game anymore.

The writer is Union minister of state for information & broadcasting, youth affairs and sports

(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this column are that of the writer. The facts and opinions expressed here do not reflect the views of www.economictimes.com.)

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