The Indian attack
In the early hours of 26th February 2019 an Indian Air Force aircraft dropped a single piece of ordnance on Jaba Top, a sparsely populated area close to Balakot. Local people interviewed by the BBC confirmed that they heard multiple aircraft at the time India claims the attack took place. They say they heard a single large explosion and investigated at first light. There was damage to at least one house and a minor head injury to one person who was filmed walking and speaking. They reported no fatalities. There was a large hole in the ground in a wooded area. Four photographs of the purported hole were released by a Pakistan government agency that also showed twisted metal and a string of numerals.
The above is close to being the sum total of what is credible evidence by eyewitnesses. India has confirmed that there was an air operation. Pakistan has confirmed that its own aircraft responded to the incursion and ‘chased off’ the Indian aircraft. For its part the Indian foreign secretary made a complete fool of both himself and by extension his country by claiming that there were multiple fatalities, including senior commanders and trainers of Jaish-e-Mohammed as a result of the attack. He offered no explanation as to how such information in such detail was available within hours of the operation, which took place at night in a remote part of foreign territory.
No analyst worthy of the name is going to expect that either side is now, or will in the future tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. The spin doctors and influencers and the peddlers of fake news were within minutes of the news breaking busy-fingered on social media. The woods near Balakot may not have been aflame but Twitter was.
Spin and internet madness aside this is a serious but not wholly unexpected escalation by India of a crisis that has only grown in scale since the attack on 14th February at Palwama in Indian Occupied Kashmir that killed about 44 paramilitary soldiers. The use of airpower to deliver this response which crossed the Line of Control, places both sides in a precarious position. This is no small scale incursion by a handful of ground troops as has happened in the past, this is a projection of power, of main force, that now lies on the table awaiting a response. No matter that the incident occurred primarily in the air, for Pakistan this is an invasion of sovereignty and an appropriate response is expected.
The Chinese were very quick to respond calling for both sides to exercise restraint, and given the investment they have in both countries it may be expected that arms are being twisted in the dark behind the arras, because the very last thing China wants is anything getting in the way of the One Belt One Road project. The Indians will doubtless be hoping that this action will be sufficient to appease the warmongers who have been sharpening their weapons and calling for action since the Palwama attack, and satisfy the noisy nationalists that back Prime Minister Modi in the run up to his electoral campaign. There really does appear to have been no loss of life or significant damage, and for its part Pakistan may be able to allow matters to rest there. Sovereignty impugned most certainly, pride dented and some searching questions about response similar to those that followed the death of Osama bin Laden in the Abottabad raid to follow. It is to be hoped that this will be the course that prevails, because neither side, nor the rest of the world, want to see Pakistan and India again at war.