The Indian Air Force strike on the Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) terror base in Pakistan's Balakot on February 26 has become a defining chapter in Indian response to Pak-sponsored terror in India. The immediate provocation was the killing of 44 CRPF soldiers in Pulwama, Jammu and Kashmir, on February 13.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi gave a free hand to the Army to strike back at a time and place of its choosing. The Indian response created history, vowed the national psyche and evoked worldwide support, which left Pakistan cornered and isolated.
It is natural for Narendra Modi to speak about it in his election rallies as national security has become a major plank of the 2019 Lok Sabha poll campaign.
It would have been beneficial for the Congress party to cheer the valour of the Indian Army and the courageous leadership of PM Modi, who, for the first time, redefined India's terror engagement with Pakistan.
There were at least two major occasions in the past for India to respond to Pakistan's terror blackmail.
When the 26/11 Mumbai terror attack took place in 2008 and the Kargil incursion in 1999, India was in a position to launch a counter offensive against Pakistan. In fact, military experts are on record suggesting that then Prime Minister Manomohan Singh avenge the Mumbai attack. But because both India and Pakistan are nuclear powers, Manmohan Singh desisted, fearing an escalation. Pakistan continued with its proxy attacks on India while denying them in the international arena.
Manmohan Singh also bracketed Pakistan as a victim of terror like India. Under Narendra Modi as Prime Minister, India's strategic response has been reshaped and made India-centric with his new diplomatic doctrine. This has produced great results for India. Modi spoke at all international fora, charging Pakistan as the incubator of terror. And he said terror anywhere is a crime against humanity everywhere. The world largely became aware of the terror threat for the first time and acknowledged that India had been for the last four decades fighting a war on terror. After the Pulwama terror attack, every country sympathized with India and the US, for the first time, supported India's right to retaliate. This was a major shift. After the Balakot operation, the world including the US and even Islamic countries like Saudi Arabia and UAE stood with India.
This diplomatic victory for India nuked Pakistan's nuclear bluff and established a new normal in India's response to cross-border terror. This context had to be explained as it was Modi's pro-active approach to the terror attack that made India safer in the last five years. The election campaign is an opportunity to explain policy shifts and new national priorities to voters. The prime minister has to explain and carry the nation along in his new initiative.
Except in J&K, there has been not a single terror attack on Indian cities in the last five years. Compare this with ten years of the UPA between 2004 to 2014, when almost every fortnight India was at the receiving end of terror strikes. The UPA approach to terrorism was pusillanimous, to put it mildly. India lost over 20,000 lives and suffered unimaginable losses to its social and economic infrastructure. Pakistan was bleeding India systematically with a thousand cuts. This also slowed down our economic growth, hit tourism and left many feeling insecure in cities and markets.
Modi changed all that. The Congress response to Modi's action is sadly akin to that of PDP leader Mehbooba Mufti, whose association with separatists is no secret. As a national party, the Congress cannot afford to repeat the language of Farooq Abdullah and Ms Mufti. Kashmiri politicians have their idiosyncrasies.
How can India always play the victim on terror? On April 21, the world saw how Sri Lanka was ripped apart by serial bomb attacks. Can India afford to pussyfoot on terror? Modi has taken action to the cradle and laboratory of terrorism. Strategic experts are unanimous that if and only if Pakistan is made to suffer heavy collateral damage for sponsoring terror will it restrain itself and abandon terror as a strategic device to force India's hand on Kashmir.
India's strike capability, world opinion and Modi's decisive leadership forced Pakistan to behave and avoid retaliating, and even honourably returning wing commander Abhimandan Varthaman. Now Pakistan is even willing to talk peace.
This is a glorious hour for India in its troubled history with a recalcitrant neighbour. The carnival of democracy, the elections, has also become for India a chance to celebrate India, its diplomatic triumph and military superiority. The Congress would do better to join and be a part of this new "Shanti Parva".
(Dr R. Balashankar is Member, BJP Central Committee on Training, and Committee on Publications and former Convener BJP National Intellectual Cell and former Editor Organiser.)
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