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India’s election ploys

With the 18th Lok Sabha elections in India in full swing, the country’s political parties have relied on rigorous campaigning to expand their voter bank.

Prior to the last Lok Sabha elections in 2019, the BJP depended on sensational campaigning by opting for a false flag operation in Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu & Kashmir (IIOJK). In 2019, anti-Pakistan rhetoric peaked in India, and the BJP cashed it to influence the Indian public and secure their votes overdramatically.

India used the backdrop of February 14, 2019, when a convoy of the Indian Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel was attacked in Pulwama, IIOJK, and the BJP leadership ordered so-called ‘surgical strikes’ inside Pakistan. In a revealing interview given to Karan Thapar on April 14, 2023, the former governor of Jammu & Kashmir, Satyapal Malik, exposed that the attack on the CRPF was due to a series of lapses and ignorance of the Indian government that resulted in a lack of security on the route travelled by the paramilitary forces.

Without conducting any investigation, the BJP government immediately pinned the blame for the attack on the CRPF on Pakistan and announced a series of steps against Pakistan in the diplomatic, political and trade arena. On February 26, 2019, India conducted a so-called ‘surgical strike’ inside Pakistan’s territory on an alleged Jaish-e-Muhammad (JeM) training camp in Balakot located in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. The then Indian foreign secretary, Vijay Gokhale, claimed that the strike killed ‘a very large number’ of militants, including commanders to further the sensationalism for the Indian voters.

However, the strike was termed as ‘a very precise miss’ by analysts who deeply studied it through open-source satellite imagery. Pakistan armed forces’ spokesman of the time Major General Asif Ghafoor rejected the claims of casualties by India and said that the “payload of hastily escaping Indians aircraft fell in open space” in a tweet on X with images of damage to a tree and a crow. The violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty and territorial integrity prompted Pakistan to deliver an immediate and appropriate response to India’s action.

In the early hours of February 27, 2024, under Operation Swift Retort, the Pakistan Air Force carried out six airstrikes at non-military targets in IIOJK. During the operation, the Pakistan Air Force depended on F-16 and JF-17 Thunder to down two Indian aircraft that violated Pakistan’s territory. India refuted Pakistan’s claims of shooting down the jets while Pakistan denied India’s claim of the loss of an F-16 jet during the aerial encounter, which was also refuted by the US Department of Defence (DoD) officials who verified Pakistan’s inventory.

The pilot of the downed Indian MiG-21, Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman, was taken into custody by Pakistan and treated with dignity and under international law before being returned to India as a peace gesture. However, failing to appreciate Pakistan’s maturity, former Indian diplomat Ajay Bisaria penned down a distorted version of this history in his recent book arguing disingenuously that Pakistan returned the pilot due to India’s aggressive posture and threats to escalate tensions further. These claims have been quashed by Pakistani analysts, underlining that if Pakistan was apprehensive about Indian aggression and escalation, it would have not carried out Operation Swift Retort.

Contrary to India’s false narrative peddled in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections and in the following years, the day (February 27, 2019) clearly belonged to Pakistan. First, the Indian strikes in Balakot had miserably failed and there was no independent verification of the ‘losses’ that India claimed to have inflicted. Second, Operation Swift Retort demonstrated that Pakistan held adequate defence capabilities as well as the will to carry out defensive operations even against military targets deep inside Indian-occupied territory in broad daylight without the fear of consequences.

Third, as the day wore on, the captured Indian pilot was confirmed to be in Pakistan’s custody. Lastly, and most importantly, the Indian forces, in the fog of war, shot down their own Mi-17 V5 helicopter which killed seven people and also misfired a missile that was intended for its own aircraft. These series of events concluded that the disoriented Indian forces were hardly in a position to demonstrate firmness, undertake any decisive action, or pursue an ‘aggressive posture’ – as being claimed post-facto.

Knowledge accounts further corroborate that India’s reported message to undertake missile strikes against Pakistan was forcefully retorted by Islamabad, pledging much more than any intended number of Indian missiles in a counter-strike by Pakistan. During this time, Pakistan had already aimed 12 missiles at Indian targets to counter any Indian aggression.

This had a further sobering effect on India. International interlocutors, reporting back to Islamabad, said they were reassured by New Delhi that India did not intend any further escalation. This clearly showed that India was not in any position in February 2019 to indulge in ‘coercive diplomacy,’ as being falsely claimed now by some commentators.

The timeline of the incidents of February 2019 and the information revealed recently have shown that the BJP manipulated the Indian voters in 2019. Given these incidents, the BJP’s willingness to go to any lengths to remain in power should not be underestimated; nevertheless, Pakistan’s resolve to deliver an immediate and effective response to any aggression from the larger neighbour must also be registered clearly. Protracted regional instability will neither benefit India nor Pakistan in the long run.

Maheen Shafeeq, "India’s election ploys," The News. 2024-04-21.
Keywords: Political science , Political issues , Lok sabha , Elections , Democracy , Abhinandan Varthaman , Ajay Bisaria , India , BJP , CRPF