Abhinandan episode adds fuel to fire

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Imran Khan (IK) leading PTI won the elections in July 2018 against his main contestant PML-N and formed governments in the Centre, Punjab and KP but got a plate full of complex problems. Throughout his little over two years tenure he has been battling to uplift the economy but so far very little progress has been made. One reason is that IK’s greater emphasis has been on accountability of the corrupt. Before and after elections, his slogan has been to take the thieves and plunderers to task and extract every penny of the looted national wealth. This fixation kept him digressed from main issues of governance, financial management, poverty alleviation, unemployment, and providing relief to the common people.

On the external front he extended a hand of friendship to India which was rudely spurned since India under Modi in connivance with USA and Israel was working on an agenda to destabilize Pakistan and settle issue of Kashmir on his terms, and was least interested in friendship. As such Modi added more fuel to his policy of belligerence.      

In his bid to win two third majority in May 2019 elections so that he could make occupied Kashmir part of India and also to embarrass Pakistan, Modi in consultation with his strategic partners USA and Israel, planned and executed the false flag operation in Pulwama on February 14, 2019. Immediately after the suicide attack which killed 40 Indian soldiers, India promptly put the blame on Jaish-e-Muhammad (JeM) and Pakistan and created war hysteria. Revenge was the clarion call given by the Hindu bigots and Indian media.

On the night of February 22, a dozen Mirage 2000s fitted with Israeli supplied Spike missiles crossed the LoC to strike a target in Balakot which was to be drummed up as JeM training centre. However, when the intruders saw the F-16s, they freaked and while flying back in panic, dropped the bombs on a deserted Jaba hilltop killing a crow and felling few trees. India tried to cover up its fiasco by claiming that JeM HQ had been destroyed but Satellite Imagery of Atlantic Council Digital Forensic Lab, European Space Imaging, and international media after visiting the site dispelled the erroneous claim.

Although no damage was done, but Pakistan took the intrusion inside Pak territory seriously since it was an unambiguous violation of airspace and sovereignty. While the big powers and the UN looked the other way to this blatant incursion, Pakistan PM IK and DG ISPR declared that a befitting reply will soon be given to the offensive act and the response will be novel.

True to the announcement, the PAF jets charged into IOK two days later on the night of 26/27 February and after homing on to the three high value targets which included the Indian Army Command Centre, Brigade HQ and an ammunition dump, the pilots shifted their guns slightly and hit open spaces close to the actual targets. This was intentionally done in the backdrop of IAF not having caused any damage, and also to give a loud message that next time the hits will be on real targets.

When the PAF jets were flying back after accomplishing their mission successfully and leaving Gen Rawat Bipen, who was sitting in the Command Centre, and others dumbstruck, Indian jets were scrambled from Srinagar airbase. This was exactly what had been anticipated for which an ambush (aerial platform) had already been laid this side of the LoC. In the daylight air duel, two Indian jets were shot down, Su-30 that side and MiG-21 this side of the LoC. The pilot of MiG-21 Wing Comd Abhinandan Varthaman was caught alive. In utter confusion the Indian air defence shot down their own helicopter and the whole crew died in the crash. It was a big victory for Pakistan which once again raised the stature of indomitable PAF, and caused utter humiliation to six time’s superior India.

Feeling humiliated, embarrassed and burning with impotent rage, in the evening of 27th, India made a plan to strike six military targets in Pak urban centres with Brahmo missiles deployed at Rajasthan airbase and where Israeli technicians were also present. When Pakistan leadership learnt about it, they responded immediately by readying surface to surface medium range missiles and announced that Pakistan will respond by targeting 18 targets inside India.

Noting the body language of IK and Gen Qamar Bajwa and the mood of Pakistani nation, the Indian leadership blinked and backed off from its mad venture which it otherwise had no intentions of executing and was a bluff to frighten Pakistan. Modi who had been reduced from a roaring lion to a mewing pussy cat had nothing to say except to lament that if he had Raffaele jets, the outcome would have been different. 

The next development was Pakistan’s decision to set Abhinandan free and return him to India as a goodwill gesture and to give peace a chance. This step was taken by IK after taking the parliament into confidence and there was no dissension. However, there were voices of dissent outside the parliament among the people. One reason of fulsome magnanimity was the heartwarming outcome of the clash without going to war which had given moral ascendency to Pakistan.

To cover up mortification, the Indian air force cooked up a story that Abhinandan before capture had shot down Pak F-16.  Modi regime conferred highest award to him. The story and conferment of award were ridiculous.  

While India lost on the military plane, Modi won his political battle and scored victory in elections with two-third majority. He exploited this victory and hastened to abrogate the special status of IOK on August 5, 2019 and make it integral part of India. Disputed J&K was divided into two Indian Union Territories – J&K and Ladakh. Since then India has locked down 8 million Kashmiris, and is breaking all records of human rights and atrocities in order to muffle the voice of Kashmiris and the world looks on as silent spectators.

This illegal move has put Pakistan in an awkward and embarrassing position particularly because well over a year has lapsed and it has so far not been able to respond to this treacherous act and to provide succor to the beleaguered Kashmiris. Probable reasons behind inaction are political instability, weak economy and Covid-19. 

Government’s procrastination was exploited by the opposition, which feeling indignant on account of pushing them against the wall over charges of corruption, ganged up and formed a grand alliance of 11 parties under the banner of PDM. Parties in the vanguard are PML-N, PPP and JUI-F. The PDM has already held three big public meetings at Gujranwala, Karachi and Quetta. Political temperature was notched up after each meeting because of spiteful speeches.

Apart from lambasting IK terming him as selected, incompetent and unwise who has ruined the economy, exiled NS in his two speeches delivered on video link from London upped the ante by directly naming the army chief and DG ISI and also casted aspersions on the judiciary. He squarely held them responsible for ousting his government and gifting inept IK to the nation due to which the people are in agony. He praised Sindh police for their act of defiance and incited the army soldiers and young officers not to obey wrongful orders of seniors. Others who challenged the writ of the state, castigated army leadership and promoted Indian narrative against Pakistan were Maryam, Bilawal, Mehmood Achakzai, Akhtar Mengal, Noorani, Attaur Rehman, Mohsin Dawar, and some others. Their invectives warmed the cockles of Indian leaders and Indian media played it up to the hilt.    

Amidst the heated exchange of denunciations from both sides padded with labels of traitors, thieves and looters pasted upon NS and other party leaders, and growing demand for NS speedy extradition, climax came when Ayaz Sadiq, senior member PML-N and former Speaker National Assembly in his address in the parliament on 29 October made a highly irresponsible statement which has evoked wide scale condemnations from all and sundry. Speaking about release of Abhinandan in February 2019, he alleged that while the PM refused to attend the meeting, army chief Gen Bajwa was sitting when foreign minister Qureshi walked in.

He added, “His legs were shaking and there were beads of sweat on his forehead”. (This part was superfluous, incorrect and undesirable).  He next said that Qureshi implored the participants, “For God sake let Abhinandan go because he has learnt that India will attack Pakistan at 9 p.m. that night”. (Again the tutored stress was on creating sensation). What he implied was that the decision to free the pilot within 48 hours of his arrest was taken in fear. I wonder why he and his companions didn’t put their foot down.   

The senseless utterings have given heart to the demoralized Indian nation which was brooding over the outcome. It overjoyed India and depressed Pakistani nation. Indian media twisted the news inferring that Ayaz described the shaky posture of Gen Bajwa and not of Qureshi and kept playing the video link. It changed the whole scenario since till this disclosure, India had gone on the defensive, but it has now regained its traditional offensive posture. It is bragging that it was India’s fear and not an act of goodwill which impelled Pakistan to free Abhinandan. 

It will be agreed that among the lot of PML-N leaders, Ayaz Sadiq is comparatively balanced and a mature person and had conducted himself as a Speaker with dignity and poise. If he has lost his cool, and joined the club of anti-establishment to settle scores with his political rivals, and is promoting Indian agenda, it means things have spun out of control. Like other PML-N leaders he also must have been rubbed, insulted and provoked so crudely that he crossed the thin line of responsible behavior into the domain of imprudence and insanity.

Although he is trying to control the damage by saying that his words were perverted and that he has no doubt in his mind that Pakistan had won the air battle, but the damage has been done.

Pakistan’s narrative of total victory has got devitalized. Fawad Ch has given more fodder to Indian media by stating that Pakistan had penetrated inside Pulwama and hit India. Indian media is exploiting his slip of tongue by inferring that Pakistan has accepted its complicity in the suicide attack in Pulwama. It could have repercussions for Pakistan which is already under huge pressure of the FATF. The onlookers in Pakistan are adding logs to the crossfire.

Ongoing spectacle is much to the delight of India since we in our exuberance and naivety are bolstering its anti-Pakistan narrative. Both sides in their zeal to downgrade their opponents are breaching rationalism and sense of responsibility.

Sanity must prevail and this political circus must end now lest we hear much worse utterances from the politicians in coming weeks. While IK should rein in his craving to bash his political rivals, NS should set aside his anti-establishment stance and stop boosting Indian narrative.

The hawks wanting to chop off the heads of the opposition leaders should logically exercise this option in occupied Kashmir where hapless Kashmiris are being killed, maimed, tortured and raped by Hindu beasts. 

An appraisal

Making an appraisal of the event with an open mind we cannot ignore the fact that some mistakes were committed. Indian Mirage 2000s had barged in with clear intentions of causing harm and had dropped bombs. It’s a different matter that no damage was done.

IK’s decision in consultation with army chief and air chief to respond to Indian aggression required steel nerves and guts and was praiseworthy. I am sure had NS or Zardari been in the saddle, this option would never have been taken.

The daring deeds on 26-27 February took the heat of megalomania and xenophobia out of the perverted minds of Modi-Bipen. It left them gaping in disbelief and had no face to show. The whole world admired the decision and the gallant action.

However, having put the lives of our two daredevil pilots at huge risk, to tell them not to strike the actual targets when they reached the intended targets, was inconsiderate.

In my humble view, at least one if not all targets should have been engaged to strike fear into the hearts of our cunning enemy which has never missed an opportunity to harm Pakistan. That would have made a deep impact of Indian jingoistic mentality. Did this concession help us in any way, or softened up India? Answer is no.

Next, in my view, Abhinandan shouldn’t have been released so early. He should have been detained at least for 1-2 weeks to cause some anxiety and pain to India which has been causing pain to Pakistan through cowardly acts performed by paid proxies for the last 16 years. More so, what good did we achieve by releasing him so quickly? I feel the policy of appeasement weigh heavily in the minds of our leaders.  

The writer is a retired Brig Gen, participant of epic Battle of Hilli in 1971 war, defence & security analyst, international columnist, writes exclusively for Veterans Today, author of five books, Chairman Thinkers Forum Pakistan, Director Measac Research Centre, Member CWC PESS, & Veterans Think Tank.

Email: asifharoonraja@gmail.com   

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