With the Air Force strike, PM Narendra Modi called Pakistan's nuclear bluff.
The Balakot air attack on February 26 by the Indian Air Force on Pakistan-based terror camps, which killed terrorists and destroyed their training facilities, has now become a watershed in the fight against terror. It required political leadership, military preparedness, combative skill and planning along with superior air strike capability. These aspects will be analysed for long. As it took place on the crucial 2019 election eve, its political impact is of more immediate significance.
There are clear indications that the air strike has ignited the spirit of nationalism throughout the country. The image of Prime Minister Narendra Modi as the national icon has been reinforced. That the world has rallied around India and Pakistan was demonstrably isolated has proved the big diplomatic strides India has taken with Modi-Sushma Swaraj in the last five years.
What are the big takeaways of the strike in the political, diplomatic and defence front? It has fired up the national psyche and thus changed the political narrative. For four decades India was seen as a helpless victim of Islamic terror, sponsored, promoted, guided and defended by Pakistan. No other country in the world has suffered for so long and so heavy as India. Indian response till Narendra Modi took office was one of pleading to the world for sympathies and cajoling Pakistan, if not propitiating it with endless comprehensive peace talks and track two diplomacy. Former Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh described Pakistan as a victim of terror. After 26/11 terror attack on Mumbai, the Indian security establishment had suggested an appropriate retaliatory response against Pakistan. But the UPA leadership had taken a pusillanimous approach. They characterised it as an attempt to derail the peace process. Every terror attack on India was described as such. Modi changed it all. He knew that Pakistan was waging a proxy war on India and using terror outfits as strategic assets. Now Modi is determined to end terror attacks on India permanently.
Modi was not looking for easy options. He has evolved a new security doctrine. This is going to be the most decisive aspect of the 2019 election. Let’s see how Modi has scripted the new narrative. First through his persistent initiatives convinced the world community that terrorism in any form, anywhere, against any country by any outfit is a threat to humanity. The world recognised that Pakistan was the main source of terror export and that it was on an asymmetric war with India.
After the Pulwama terror attack on February 14 in which 41 CRPF soldiers were killed, the whole world in one voice condemned it and stood with India in its right to retaliate. For the first time, the US publicly acknowledged India’s right to revenge. So far Pakistan used to blackmail India with its nuclear arsenal which it threatened to use against India if it reacted. With the Air Force strike, Modi called the neighbour’s nuclear bluff.
All this was hailed and supported by the world leaders. Even China had to tone down its support to Pakistan and cautioned it against escalation. The UN Security Council members except China on their own moved to act against Pakistan harbouring terror outfits and wanted to declare Masood Azhar a wanted terrorist. Internally India acted withdrawing MFN status to Pakistan, imposing high duty on imports from there and banning Jamaat-e-Islami and removing security cover to separatist leaders.
The nation cheered all this. India’s unprecedented diplomatic outreach paid off. The External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj was honoured at OIC, much to Pakistan’s dismay, wherein a sterling performance she swayed the hosts presenting Indian position. She could persuade China to take a neutral stand and be counted on fight against terror. On the election eve, by speaking the language that found echoed in Pakistan the anti-Modi Opposition lost the plot. As Modi is being hailed as the best guarantee for preserving national unity and integrity the Opposition leaders like Rahul Gandhi are talking as if they have no stake in national security. After initially supporting the Air Force strike, within hours they started questioning the veracity and proof. After denying bullet-proof jackets to Indian Army and advanced combat aircraft to Air Force for ten years, the UPA’s attack on Rafale sounded ill-timed and motivated. The fact Opposition criticism of Modi is being cited by Pakistan leaders to defend themselves have spoiled their case in India.
Modi has an enviable record of achievements in the last five years. His welfare schemes have brought an entirely new constituency of vote base for BJP. Only on development plank, he can vow the voters. But this round after the air strike the electoral narrative has entirely changed. In whose hands India is safe? Whom Pakistan and terrorists fear the most? Whom Pakistan and Imran Khan would like to see defeated in Indian polls? Who can take India forward and rally the world behind? These are the questions being debated after Balakot.