The prime minister has called the dropping of payloads in Balakot a pilot project. The real project, he said, was yet to be launched. Pilot projects are meant to validate new ideas and processes. They are then taken forward by venture capitalists to determine their viability. The prime minister doesn’t quite appreciate that the viability of such a pilot project is highly suspect.
The pilot project is over and its fallout is for all to see. Wing Commander Abhinandan is back. The nation embraced the home-coming of its brave son.
There are serious questions that must be asked. What has this pilot project achieved? Hopefully, the government will soon demonstrate that 300-400 terrorists were eliminated. The foreign media, however, seems to have questioned such an outcome. At the risk of being called anti-national, I think it is the right of the country’s citizens to know the extent of damage caused to terrorists at the training camps in Balakot — it is the duty of the government to inform them. Coinciding with Abhinandan’s homecoming, was the killing of five security personnel in an encounter in Kupwara. We should have known that such a pilot project will not deter Pakistan or terrorists in their forays across our borders.
The surgical strike carried out by this government in September 2016 against the terror launchpads in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (POK) also failed to deter Pakistan’s attempts to destabilise Kashmir through terrorist activities. Both the July 2015 Gurdaspur and January 2016 Pathankot terror attacks caught this government unawares. There was no follow up, except that we were deeply embarrassed at having allowed the ISI to set foot in India without Pakistan following through its reciprocal commitment. The September 2016 terror attack on an army brigade at Uri apparently resulted in a surgical strike. The prime minister patted himself on the back for this allegedly historic first. Surgeries of this nature are meant to target the cancer that afflicts the body politic. However, the cancer is spreading, the surgery having failed.
I will assume that 300-400 people were killed at Balakot. Does this government believe that terrorism will come to an end and that Indian military installations will not be targeted or that cross-border adventurism will cease? Pakistan is the hotbed of terrorism. Does this government believe that the killing of 300 terrorists will change the mindset of Pakistan’s military establishment? For Pakistan, terrorism is a valuable strategic enterprise. As long as it can, in the words of Pervez Musharraf, inflict a thousand cuts on us, that enterprise will continue.
Pilot projects are the result of a new way of dealing with a problem. The claim that post-Pulwama, there has been a paradigm shift in our policy towards terrorism is nothing but self-deception. After the Indian air-strikes which were solely aimed at terror camps across the border, Pakistan had the temerity to launch air-strikes across the international border in an attempt to target our military establishments. If launching the “real project” means crossing the international border on a regular basis and targeting terrorist camps deep within Pakistan, the consequences may well be frightening. Yet we need to bring succour to the families of the 40 CRPF jawans who lost their lives in the terrorist attack.
Our policy must be multi-pronged. In the context of the present international environment, we have the support of the Western world and in particular, the US. Pakistan must deliver and bring to justice terrorists who find Pakistan a safe heaven. But President Donald Trump, as he opens a dialogue with the Taliban in the Af-Pak region, needs Pakistan to take those talks forward. So, at present, not much will be achieved through American pressure. All of Europe, particularly France, as well as Japan and Australia are on board. They believe that Pakistan must take effective steps to deal with terrorists at home. But China will not let Pakistan down given its strategic interests and the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor project. The UN Security Council Resolution 1267 can only be passed if China also believes that Masood Azhar should be declared a global terrorist. That support is unlikely.
As far as the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) is concerned, Pakistan is in the grey category since July 2018 and international pressure can be brought to blacklist it. The environment is right for a diplomatic blitzkrieg to build up international opinion against Pakistan. But we must also not forget that the generals behind the terrorists or the others who support them have to be dealt with. The political establishment in Pakistan does not call the shots. We need to strategically think as to how the Pakistani military establishment is to be addressed.
The entire Opposition will stand by the government and the prime minister if he can assure the people of this country that with surgical strikes and the dropping of payloads, not a single jawan will be killed in times to come. The enemy, Mr Prime Minster, is not the Opposition. The term “anti-national” should be used for those who take the nation for a ride. Open your eyes to the reality of the problem. The visceral hatred that you display in your colourful vocabulary is the enemy of the good. That mindset needs a surgical strike. Only unity at home will help us deal with an implacable hostile neighbour.
The writer, a senior Congress leader, is a former Union minister