By carrying out precision airstrikes targeting the Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) terror camps deep inside Pakistani territory, India has drawn a new red line in counter-terrorism strategy and sent across a strong message to Islamabad that it will hunt down terrorists wherever they are holed up. For the first time since the 1971 war, India came out of its self-imposed code of not opting for aerial attack across LoC and conducted a bold operation to take out the terrorists operating from Pakistani soil. The non-military, preemptive air strikes delivered a clear message to the international community that Islamabad had failed to rein in anti-India terrorist groups. Since India has taken adequate care not to cause civilian casualties or target the military installations, any misadventure by Pakistan now in the name of revenge will only escalate the situation and lead to a full-fledged war. The bold strike by the IAF jets has also called the recurring nuclear bluff of Islamabad and sent an unambiguous message that India will not be cowed by such threats. In a pre-dawn and well-coordinated operation, 12 IAF mirage 2000 fighter jets crossed the LoC and dropped 1,000 kg bombs on the biggest terror training facility at Balakot in a forest area in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, killing over 300 terrorists, including JeM chief Masood Azhar’s brother-in-law Yousuf Azhar who was involved in the hijacking of IC-814 flight in December 1999. The terror outfit, which has been having a free run in Pakistan, had claimed responsibility for the February 14 terror attack in Jammu and Kashmir’s Pulwama in which 40 soldiers were killed.
The preemptive strike was based on credible intelligence that JeM was planning to carry out terror attacks across India. The successful operation, which evoked unequivocal support from across the political spectrum, has demonstrated IAF’s technical superiority and precision and also the ground-level intel capabilities to strike at terror targets without causing civilian casualties. Any strike at Lashkar headquarters in Muridke near Lahore or JeM’s main base in Bahawalpur in south Punjab would have incurred heavy casualties since the complexes also host huge civilian establishments. Penetrating deep inside Pakistani territory, without being noticed by radars and returning safe means that the IAF had deployed high-powered jammers during the 20-minute operation that emasculated Pakistan’s US-made radar defences. The operation was also laser targeted to avoid civilian casualties. It must be pointed out that India had given proof many times seeking action against JeM and others at terror camps where hundreds of jihadis are given training. But due to Pakistan’s deliberate inaction, pre-emptive strikes had become absolutely necessary. Now, it is for the international community to back the naming of Masood Azhar as a ‘UN-designated terrorist’.