Five years after the Pulwama terror strike - Hindustan Times
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Five years after the Pulwama terror strike

Feb 13, 2024 10:05 PM IST

For synergy between the various arms of the military, the institution needs to shed many shibboleths of its past in the national interest

Today is the fifth anniversary of the Pulwama terror attack. Forty Indian security personnel were killed in this heinous attack that was attributed to Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM), a Pakistan-based and aided terror organisation led by an internationally proscribed terrorist, Masood Azhar. The attack was followed by a punitive strike by the Indian Air Force (IAF) on a terrorist training facility, a non-military target in Pakistan, across the international border in the early hours of February 26, 2019. This subsequently led to a retaliation by the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) the next day and in the ensuing skirmish, a PAF F-16 was shot down along with an IAF MiG-21, with its pilot taken hostage by Pakistan.

**EDS: IMAGE VIA DEFENCE PRO** New Delhi: Four Tejas aircrafts fly past in 'Diamond' formation during the 75th Republic Day parade, at the Kartavya Path in New Delhi, Friday, Jan. 26, 2024. (PTI Photo)(PTI01_26_2024_000808B)(PTI)
**EDS: IMAGE VIA DEFENCE PRO** New Delhi: Four Tejas aircrafts fly past in 'Diamond' formation during the 75th Republic Day parade, at the Kartavya Path in New Delhi, Friday, Jan. 26, 2024. (PTI Photo)(PTI01_26_2024_000808B)(PTI)

Diplomatic relations nosedived since the Pulwama attack with India withdrawing Most Favoured Nation (MFN) status to Pakistan in February 2019. In August 2019, Pakistan suspended bilateral trade with India. Indo-Pak relations since then have continued in a downward spiral with both nations having withdrawn their staff and closing down their respective consulates. The possibility of any rapprochement appears slim; the fractured verdict in the Pakistan elections has ensured that the military establishment is likely to set the agenda.

Two days after the Pulwama terror attack, the IAF carried out its planned firepower demonstration, Exercise Vayushakti, over the Pokhran range in which 140 fighters including attack helicopters and transport aircraft showcased their capability to hit targets with pinpoint accuracy. The planning for the calibrated response to the Pulwama attack code-named ‘Operation Bandar’ was a secret known to only a select few. This operation in the early hours of February 26, 2019, took the Pakistan establishment by surprise. More importantly, the international community perceived it as a just and appropriate response by an aggrieved India on a non-military target in response to a terrorist attack on its soil.

The next edition of Vayushakti is scheduled to take place on Saturday (February 17). This version of the exercise will see the participation of 121 aircraft including the indigenous Tejas, Prachand and Dhruv apart from the Rafale, which will be participating for the first time. Indigenous surface-to-air missile systems, Akaash and Samar, will display their ability to track and shoot down enemy aircraft. This year, the exercise will see participation by the Indian Army aviation assets as well focussing on interoperability, synergy and coordination, not only between various weapon systems and platforms within the service but also inter-service.

In the five years since the Pulwama attack, Pakistan has lost out on international goodwill. It has also lost salience in strategic terms after the United States (US) withdrew from Afghanistan and the Taliban returned to run the government in Kabul. With International Monetary Fund (IMF) bailouts being the norm rather than the exception and a faltering electoral democracy, the prospects of a turnaround in Pakistan’s trajectory of growth and prosperity appear remote. India, on the other hand, continues on its path of being a resurgent and responsible nation that not only desires friendly relations with its neighbours but also aims to be a leading voice of the Global South. The military standoff with China in Eastern Ladakh since May 2020 and the break in meaningful diplomatic engagement to resolve the border dispute along the Line of Actual Control to restore the status quo ante, places India in a precarious situation that requires not only political resolve but military heft as well to protect its interests. With a strong government in office, there is no dearth of aggressive political will. The military capability has been displayed during the punitive strike after the Pulwama terror attack and the standoff with China in Galwan. It will once again be displayed during Exercise Vayushakti this weekend. While this may assuage the nation at large on the IAF’s prowess and capability, we live in an uncertain world that is today witnessing long and enduring conflicts that can have disastrous consequences.

Wars and conflicts have metamorphosed into multi-domain operations wherein anything and everything can be weaponised. However, to protect national interests, political will and resolve, capability and capacity are quintessential ingredients. While the former two are available in abundance, the capacity in terms of military hardware remains an issue of concern. There exists a need to not only bolster indigenous production but to also prioritise inter-service requirements and lay out a roadmap that needs to be followed in letter and spirit. The wheels of the military-industrial complex in the country need to turn vigorously. For synergy between the various arms of the military, the institution needs to shed many shibboleths of its past in the national interest. It is time to cast criticism and scepticism aside and counter rhetoric with substance.

Anil Golani, retired air vice marshal, is additional director general, Centre for Air Power Studies. The views expressed are personal

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