Home Global Village Balakot—Pakistan’s strategic 9/11? – Jan Achakzai

Balakot—Pakistan’s strategic 9/11? – Jan Achakzai


Jan Achakzai |

India’s violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty along working boundary and clearly admission of willfully flaunting it by conducting a raid on Balakot, legitimizing it under the right of foreign policy doctrine of “preemption”, has set out new strategic, tactical, and political imperatives for Islamabad.

Contextualizing the Indian raid, Delhi’s narrative on terrorism predicated on outsourcing its troubles in Indian Occupied Kashmir to Pakistan saying it is cross-border state terrorism which is affecting India’s stability and causing unrest in IOK.

Secondly, galvanizing public opinion in the US and EU against Pakistan’s alleged support for terrorism, India has tried to shift pressure onto Islamabad and let spare itself of the censure of the world for human rights violations in IOK.

Pakistan needs a new strategy to deal with the new normal of India’s strategic calculus: conventionally attack at will and justify the act of aggression as a preemptive action.

Third, after almost two decades of nearly 7 percent growth rate of its economy, India really thinks that its power differential with Pakistan has grown and as such can talk down Islamabad while using the phrases like preemptive actions borrowed from the lexicon of the then President Bush junior era of the US administration.

Fourth, India has undergone a paradigm shift: it really thinks it can get away with by responding conventionally to Pakistan without crossing Islamabad’s nuclear thresholds. For example, it was very careful after the Uri incident in 2016: short of conventional military response, India was looking for an active military outcome out of the so-call surgical strikes it claimed to have carried out. Pakistan after Uri incident did not vouch for any surgical strike to have taken place hence considered it as a fake conventional act so did not respond and let the Modi government draw a political mileage and gleefully claiming to have called off Pakistan’s what it felt nuclear “bluff”.

Read more: There are no winners in wars, only humanity loses: DG ISPR

Lastly, Pulwama incident was the second opportunity India horned in on a prescriptive recommendation lending a strategy of punishing Pakistan for the alleged terrorist incident and capitalizing internally and externally.

Pakistan Should be Alarmed

Why Pakistan needs to be alarmed is that the Balakot incident has fitted into a pattern proving beyond any doubt the following presumption: after every such terrorist act, India becomes judge, jury, and executioner blaming Pakistan and seeking a reprisal. In other words, if there is another Pulwama 2 tomorrow, India will be looking to hit Pakistan again with scant regard for verification of facts, (e.g, Pakistan’s involvement, any need to counter check, etc).

Pakistan’s strategic thinkers need to watch the post-Balakot complex pattern of behavior of International and regional countries which is likely to affect the strategic context in South Asia.

For the first time, India has set out a new hostile posture towards Pakistan since 1971 post Balakot: first, Delhi raided Balakot materially violating Pakistan’s sovereignty; it afforded India with the opportunity to claim to have strategically avenged Pulwama incident, and got away with such violations; the tune and toner of post Balakot was If India was taking a “preemptive” strike justifying its aggression.

After the Balakot incident, it becomes politically, strategically and tactically imperative for Pakistan to respond of-course at time and place of its own choosing. Striking down of planes and arresting two pilots was a result of defending against the adversary’s incursions. However, this Pakistani response will very unlikely change India’s new security calculus informed by the doctrine of “preemption”.

Read more: Pulwama attack: India continues hostility towards Pakistan

Therefore, Balakot has cut out the option for Pakistan to strategically respond for the following reasons:

  1. Pakistan needs a new strategy to deal with the new normal of India’s strategic calculus: conventionally attack at will and justify the act of aggression as a preemptive action.
  2. If Pakistan fails to punish India for its blatant aggression in Balakot, expect more raids after every terrorist act in India.
  3. At a more tactical level, politically it reflects badly on the government to be soft in the face of naked Indian aggression.
  4. The prestige of Pakistan’s armed forces will be on the line even in the eyes of adversary’s strategic thinking to postulates that threat perception of Pakistan’s defense policy does not include a robust response to airborne breach invoked under the doctrine of “preemption” by a hostile country.
  5. India establishes new calculus: it can teach a lesson to Pakistan for any terrorist act, on its soil or in IOK, in a conventional manner without being deterred and without paying any prohibitive cost rendering Pakistan vulnerable to furniture adventures.
Regional Implications
  1. Regionally, Pakistan should not let Delhi succeeds in burgeoning bellicosity and in sending out a message of assertive defense policy: a country not to be messed with, and adopting an amended hostile posture towards all small neighbors including Islamabad.
  2. That India is seeking a particular outcome of its liking (including the assumption of forcing any permanent alteration in strategic calculus of Pakistan) through these so-called “preemptive” raids has made it more challenging for Islamabad as to how best it can roll back the new Indian strategic mindset by choosing a response calibrated at the time and place of its choosing and proportionate in size and intensity.
  3. Pakistan’s strategic thinkers need to watch the post-Balakot complex pattern of behavior of International and regional countries which is likely to affect the strategic context in South Asia. Starting from the US, Washington is no more a common denominator in South Asia and it would like to punish Pakistan through Indian hostile acts even in the future if Delhi remains undeterred. This is the unintended and second-order implication of the Balakot raid for Pakistan.
  4. The same attitude is of Germany and France and to a lesser extent of the UK towards Pakistan clearly patronizing Indian hostile intent.
  5. Russian is the only county that enjoys influence and can shape Delhi’s thinking to move towards a stable outcome, a country Pakistan needs to immensely engage with and lobby.
  6. China which is now more confident and assertive in its use of leadership should be convinced as to why to act and do things that seek reduced presence and limiting the influence of India in South and West Asia.
  7. Beijing also can persuade International sponsors of India’s hostile intent that Delhi can restore its respect if promotes detente among allies and competitors.

This is important to take into account as the lack of reliable channels of communication exacerbates undesired situations. Last but, not the least, top order priority for Islamabad should be to limit the attrition rate and minimize escalation.

The above analysis precludes any option for Pakistan not to strategically respond to post Balakot India in a manner that dismantle the new paradigm Delhi has entered into (e.g opt for the conventional act of aggression while remaining within the thresholds of nuclear redlines of Pakistan).

However, while imposing any prohibitive cost on India at any given point in time, Pakistan must also consider the range of options in the event of a full escalation of a war that include nuclear escalators’ possibilities. Remember, both countries will lose the luxury of turning off the default button after the escalation.

Pakistan should also choose many strategies including choosing militarily, politically and economically sensitive targets.

Read more: Pakistan will respond to Indian aggression: FM Qureshi warns

Bilateral crisis management mechanisms need to be in place so that in case of any robust response, the risk of miscalculation is reduced. This is important to take into account as the lack of reliable channels of communication exacerbates undesired situations. Last but, not the least, top order priority for Islamabad should be to limit the attrition rate and minimize escalation.

Jan Achakzai is a geopolitical analyst, a politician from Baluchistan, and ex-advisor to the Baluchistan Government on media and strategic communication. He remained associated with BBC World Service. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space. 

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