Post the Pulwama attack, the air strikes by the IAF on terrorist positions deep inside Pakistan on 26 February 2019, and the Pakistan air attack a day later on a forward Indian military position have thrown up diametrically differ- ent narratives from the two belligerent neigh- bours.
In Pakistan, the narrative that has wide acceptance is that India’s air strikes had no impact, did little damage and were way off tar- get. Surprisingly, that view seems to have been accepted by Pakistani think tanks too, which viewed Indian actions as a miscalculation on the part of the Indian leadership on Pakistan’s response resolve and capability. At the same time, they believe that the retaliatory air strike by the Pakistan Air Force caught India off- guard and that the downing of an IAF aircraft and the arrest of Wing Commander Abhinandan stalled expected Indian escalatory measures. They were however concerned that the global community did not condemn India and urged the Pakistani leadership to counter India’s ‘liberal interpretation of UN Article 51,’ which sought to couch its action as a pre-emp- tive non-military strike.
The narrative taking shape in Pakistan also talks about the crackdown by their security forces against proscribed organisations, but seem to summarily dismiss the JeMs role in the Pulwama massacre. Imran Khan’s peace over- tures to Pakistan were considered a de-escala- tory step, but from the Pakistani viewpoint, lit- tle was likely to be achieved till India’s National Election was over and a new government was installed in end May 2019. The Pakistani narra- tive continues to harp on Kashmir and a dia- logue with Pakistan to resolve the issue.
It is apparent that the Pakistani elite are still misreading the situation. It is precisely this myopic mindset of Pakistan’s intelligentsia, which creates the space for conflict. The view among the masses is even more radical as they have been fed on an anti India diet since 1947, and their vision has been distorted to the point of blindness. For three decades, Pakistan has also been waging a proxy war against India, but that does not find mention in any Pakistani narrative. Their children are taught to hate the non-Muslim, and India is projected as the arch enemy. Their history is distorted to the extent that they are taught that Mohammed bin Qasim who conquered Sindh in 712 CE, is the first Pakistani!
This blindness has consumed the Pakistani state. It refuses to acknowledge the smashing of the JeM terror camps at Balakot, it refuses to accept that its F-16 was shot down by a MiG 21 fighter and now, the state blandly declares that the JeM and other terror organisations do not exist in Pakistan! The two pilots of the F-16 which was shot down ejected in PoJ&K and were apprehended by their own people. One of the pilots was badly beaten by the locals and he later succumbed to his injuries in a Pakistani hospital. It speaks volumes for the confusion prevailing in Pakistan that the F-16 and the two pilots shot down were thought to be Indian! Apparently, little communication exists between the Pakistan Air Force and the Pakistan Army!
Pakistan’s misreading of the situation could well have serious consequences for their polity. India has changed the rules of the game and has called their nuclear bluff. There will be consequence for Pakistan if it continues to indulge in proxy war and nuclear brinkman- ship, as now, the war will shift to Pakistani land and air space and may even extend to their ter- ritorial waters. Deescalation will rest solely on Pakistan, and would involve wounding up all terror camps and not permitting terrorist groups to operate from their soil. Pakistan would do well to remember that the only out- standing issue as far as J&K is concerned is Pakistan’s illegal occupation of POJ&K. And if it does not change its policy, it will have to bear the brunt of the Indian response. And next time, the repercussions may be more than what Pakistan is capable of bearing.