12 days after the spine-chilling Pulwama attack, driving what the country’s Foreign Ministry called an intelligence-led “non-military pre-emptive action” against Pakistani Jihadi group Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM), Indian Air Force (IAF) on Tuesday early morning crossed into Pakistani territory and carried out air strike on the biggest JeM camp at Balakot inside Pakistan’s northeastern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province. A group of IAF Mirage 2000 fighter jets between 3.50 am to 4.05 am pounded the terror camps dropping around 1,000 kg bombs, as per government sources. Moreover, intelligence sources say that the ammunition dump blown up in Balakot had more than 200 AK rifles, uncountable rounds hand grenades, explosives, and detonators.
The official briefing by Foreign Secretary VK Gokhale hours after the operation mentioned that the need behind this air strike by India was to forestall further ‘fidayeen’ style attacks on India. Reports suggested elimination of 300 terrorists in the covert operation by IAF; however, without clarifying the number of casualties, it confirmed that the strikes were carried out to target terror training caps being run by Maulana Yusuf Azhar, the brother-in-law of JeM chief, Maulana Masood Azhar while Yusuf Azhar was killed in the attacks or not is not yet confirmed. “A very large number of JeM terrorists, trainers, senior commanders and groups of jihadis who were being trained for fidayeen action were eliminated,” Gokhale was quoted saying in the media briefing.
Maj Gen (R) AJB Jaini expressed, “India’s air strike in Pakistan is not a surgical strike but a retaliation on the terrorist camps in Pakistan to teach them a lesson. We had many times warned and cautioned Pakistan and Pulwama was the last straw. We have not attacked Pakistan as PoK is ours; PoK is the part of Kashmir and Kashmir is a part of India.
This air strike is just a trailer. The anger of Indian people won’t subside. Kashmir and hate India has become oxygen-like for Pakistan. It is no longer a case of ‘Azadi’ and they want to make Kashmir an Islamic state.”
While the Pakistan Army acknowledged the incursion into its territory, they denied any casualties because of the raid and claimed that the Indian planes dropped their “payload” while fleeing from jets scrambled to intercept them. Warning India not to challenge Pakistan, its Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi stated, “This is a violation of the Line of Control, and Pakistan reserves the right to a reasonable response and the right to self-defence. Better sense should prevail in India and defenders of Pakistan were ‘fully prepared to respond to any misadventure’.”
Social activist Panchshila Ratan Dhawary said, “February 26 IAF air strike Balakot is a befitting reply of Pulwama attack. The entire world is aware that Pakistan sponsors terrorism. While terrorists had cowardly attacked our soldiers but our Air Force boldly faced them. I am proud of the Indian Army. Irrespective of circumstances, the Indian Army stands strong as support and our Jawans are fully prepared to give a befitting reply to Pakistan.”
Although the Pak military didn’t confirm the location of the incident, their statement conflicted as initially, they claimed the place to be near the town of Balakot, about 12 km from Jaba but later claimed that it took place within the confines of Pakistan administrated Kashmir. Post a meeting chaired by PM Imran Khan, Pakistan’s National Security Committee (NSC) in a statement said, “India has committed uncalled for aggression to which Pakistan shall respond at the time and place of its choosing.”
Retired DySP MI Sheikh stated, “IAF is late in replying the Pulwama attack, this operation should have taken place on the evening of February 14. There is no provision for suicide in Islam. The suicide bombers, who claim themselves to be Mujahids, are killing innocent people, hence the tough lesson must be taught. Such operation by IAF with full strength is most welcome. If Pak PM Imran Khan is a wise politician, he will take a proper lesson from this strike. If Pak commits more blunders further, such strikes will be multiplied.”
Tensions between the two nuclear-armed neighbours severely escalated after the horrid and the deadliest terror attack in decades that took place on February 14 in J&K’s Pulwama led by a Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) suicide bomber who rammed a bus carrying CRPF personnel from Jammu to Srinagar with an explosive-laden vehicle killing 42 Jawans. JeM claimed the responsibility for the terror strike immediately. Outrage against Pakistan and the need to teach Pak a lesson was heard from every nook and corner of the country and the rage strengthened with Indian political leadership promising a payback to Pak and the Prime Minister himself giving a free hand to the Indian Army. However, Pakistan denied any role in the attack and Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan last week asked India for “actionable intelligence” in order to take action against any JeM operatives in Pakistan.
In a move to clarify the intentions behind the air strike carried out by Air Force as means to defend India, Gokhale said, “The selection of the target was also conditioned by our desire to avoid civilian casualties. The facility is located in the thick forest on a hilltop far away from any civilian presence.”
Stressing on the terror activities led by JeM, Gokhale noted that the terror group spearheaded by Maulana Masood Azhar was active in Pakistan for the last two decades and its headquarters are based in Bahawalpur, Punjab province. He continued saying that the UN proscribed JeM has been responsible for a series of terror attacks including the 2001 Parliament attack and the January 2016 Pathankot attack.” In the meantime, India’s anti-terror agency has also conducted raids on the houses of four senior Kashmiri separatist leaders, including Yasin Malik.
Singer and Music Director Koyel Tripathi stated, “This is a very proud moment for the country that our Jawans did a Surgical Strike. It’s not so easy to complete an attack in 21 minutes. It’s proved that this operation has taught a lesson to Pakistan, a country that has always been active in supporting terrorism. India always wanted peace talks but that does not mean India will keep quiet. All the terrorist camps in Pakistan should be eliminated.”
While citizens and political leaders across the nation lauded IAF for the operation, the Government of India expressed how it’s ‘firmly and resolutely committed to taking all necessary measures to fight the menace of terrorism’. Prime Minister Narendra Modi held a meeting where he was briefed about the pre-dawn air attacks by Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman. The meeting was attended by top government officials including Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, External Affairs Sushma Swaraj, and Home Minister Rajnath Singh. Today’s strong action shows the will and resolve of a New India, says BJP Chief Amit Shah. During his rally in Rajasthan, PM Modi says ‘I want to assure you that India is in safe hands’.
Social Activist Mayank Gandhi in a conversation with Afternoon Voice said, “It’s a brilliant move to drive an air strike operation in the middle of the night with so much precision and coming back undamaged. This is a very strong message from Indian to Pakistan. However, this is not the end and the situation might escalate. Indian Army is the strongest. The Pakistan government and its Army might retaliate due to pressure from their people; we must be ready for that.”