Since the partition in 1947, India and Pakistan have fought four wars in total. In 1947, 1965, 1971 and 1999. Since then, the two nuclear nations have always been archrivals. However, in February 2019, tensions escalated as India-Pakistan were facing the worst conflict in decades.
A Suicide Bomb Attack Martyrs 40 Indian Soldiers
On February 14, an explosive-laden vehicle carrying 350 kg of bombs ripped through a bus which martyred 40 Indian jawans (Central Reserve Police Force) in the Pulwama district in J&K. This bus was a part of 78 other buses carrying 2,500 Indian soldiers, who were commuting from Sri Nagar to Kashmir. Many of who were rejoining duty after leaves. Termed to be the deadliest terror attack in the valley in 30 years, these attacks shook the entire country. The very next day, a Pakistan based terror outfit founded in 2001, Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) claimed the responsibility for the attacks via an online video. A 20-year-old named Adil Ahmad Dar was identified as the suicide bomber by the police. A resident of Pulwama, he joined JeM in 2018.
India gave it back, initially in small hints…
Like always, we fired with diplomatic ways to completely isolate Pakistan – economically and socially. Immediately after the attacks, India scrapped Pakistan’s ‘Most Favoured Nations’ (MFN) status. When granted with the MFN status, one country is obliged to treat the other in a non-discriminatory manner in terms of trade agreement and customs duties. Withdrawal of this status would hurt Pakistan as India can now enhance the customs duties on goods imported from Pakistan to any level. And that’s exactly what India did. On February 16, the Finance Minister Arun Jaitley tweeted that India has raised the customs duty on all goods imported from Pakistan to 200%. A number this high is as good as banning imports from Pakistan. For instance, the two main items imported from Pakistan are fruits and cement had a customs duty of 30-50% and 7.5% respectively. Economic isolation: check.
To add to this, India also threatened diverting the river waters that flow downstream to Pakistan. And instead, the water will be diverted to the people in Jammu and Kashmir and Punjab. (Well, this water war surrounded around the Indus Water Treaty goes back to the 1960s. We explain it here.)
…so did the angry citizens
Protests condemning the Pulwama attacks broke out – nationally and internationally. Rallies, candle marches, curfews and bandhs soon erupted with protesters shouting out anti-national slogans – with the objective to expose the barbaric nature of terrorism supported in Pakistan.
This anger slowly seeped into the cricket and entertainment industry as well. Stadiums removed photos of Pakistani cricketers including Imran Khan, Shahid Afridi, Shoaib Akhtar and Wasim Akram. On the other hand, All India Cine Workers Association announced a blanket ban on Pakistani actors and artists from the film industry. In a tweet announcing this ban, they mentioned ‘Nation comes first, we stand with our nation.’
And 2 weeks later, came the masterstroke
19 minutes, 12 jets and 3 targets. India avenges the deaths of the martyrs.
In the early hours of February 26, the Indian Air Force (IAF) breached the Line of Border (LoC – the border between India and Pakistan) and dropped 1,000 kgs of bombs in multiple terror camps in Pakistan. The operation involved 12 ‘Mirage 2000’ jets which dropped bombs and completely destroyed major terror camps in Balakot, Muzaffarabad and Chakothi. The Indian reports claim that the air strikes JeM’s biggest terror camp and a large number of JeM’s terrorists, trainers and Jihadis were killed.
This was BIG!
Experts have called the air strikes bigger, bolder and deadlier than the Surgical Strike in 2016. That’s because this was for the first time since 1971 that the Indian Air Force crossed the borders internationally. Even during the Kargil War in 1999, Indian aircraft did not cross the LoC. This was a bold and risky step, exercising air power on foreign soil can be considered as an act of war. Secondly, these strikes were carried out deep inside Pakistan’s territory (unlike the previous one which was carried out near the LoC.) And thirdly, compared to the gunfire used in the first surgical strike, the choice of weapon in this one was much deadlier as it included dropping 1,000 kg of laser-guided bombs.
Pakistan paints a different picture
Both nations have a different version of the event. The Pakistani officials dismissed and rubbished the Indian claims and stated that the Indian aircrafts missed the targets and dropped bombs in a sparsely inhabited area, causing no damage or casualties. Pointing out to the upcoming Indian Lok Sabha elections, Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi slammed the air strikes as a ‘self-less, reckless and fictitious claim’
IAF vs PAF: The aerial engagement continues
How exactly the aerial engagement unfolded is yet unclear. Here’s what we know. Responding to the IAF strikes, the Pakistan Air Forces (PAF) retaliated the very next morning by using its air force to target Indian military installations. In response to Pakistan’s strikes, the IAF again crossed the LoC by launching two Indian aircraft (MiG-21 Bison). But, the PAF shot down both the Indian aircraft. While one fell in the Indian Occupied Kashmir (IOK), the other fell in the wrong side of the border – Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (POK). A statement released by the Pakistani officials stated that the IAF Wing Commander, Abhinandan Varthaman has been captured and under Pakistan’s custody.
An Indian Air Force pilot is captured by Pakistan
According to the locals in the Bhimber district of PoK, they saw an aircraft burst into flames and a pilot with a parachute emerging out of it. After realising that his aircraft crashed in the wrong side of the border, IAF Abhinandan hurriedly swallowed all the important documents and even soaked a few in a nearby pond. By the time an angry mob beat him up, Pakistan’s army personnel reached the spot and took him to the military installation in Bhimber.
India’s Ministry of External Affairs demanded the IAF’s pilot immediate and safe return to India. The next day, a video was circulated by the Pakistani media showing the pilot being interrogated by Pakistan’s officials. Here’s the video of the interrogation. On the very same day Pakistan’s PM, Imran Khan, announced in the Parliament that Pakistan will release the IAF pilot as a ‘peace gesture’ and as an effort to de-escalate the tensions.
But soon released him as a ‘peace gesture’
2 days of after this capture, IAF Wing Commander Abhinandan was released on March 1. As per sources he was supposed to be handed over to the Indian authorities late noon, but the procedure was delayed by Pakistan as they changed the timing of his handover twice. The authorities cited ‘procedural and documentation problems’. After multiple delays, he finally arrived in India via the Wagah-Attari border at around nine in the night. Thousands of people had gathered on the Indian side of the border to welcome the pilot back home.
Sure, this was a peace gesture by Pakistan and India is happy with Pakistan’s decision to release the pilot. But, experts say that Pakistan needs to do a lot more to end militancy and shut down its support for terrorist groups. While this might signal a temporary de-escalation between the two nuclear powers, reports suggest that India will continue to keep up the pressure on Pakistan to crackdown its terrorist infrastructure.