Reconstructing Narratives: A Critical Analysis of the Operation Swift Retort

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Abdul Qadir

On February 14, 2019, a convoy of Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel was targeted in Pulwama, Occupied Kashmir, resulting in the deaths of nearly 40 reserves. The aftermath of the attack witnessed a rapid escalation of tensions between India and Pakistan. Accusations were levelled, threats hurled, and that finally culminated in an airstrike in Balakot, across the border in Pakistan.
The Indian officials attributed the attack to a terrorist group allegedly operating across the LoC; and openly accused Pakistan of the attack, thereby undermining the tenuous order in the region. Satya Pal Malik, ex-governor of Kashmir claimed in his interview that the targeted attack on the convoy was the failure of the Indian government to comply with the demand to provide aircrafts for the safe transportation of the CRPF personnel. He further asserted that Modi asked him to keep quiet about the matter as it would harm his government.
Pakistan called for a thorough investigation and expressed its willingness to collaborate in the investigation of the matter aiming to de-escalate tensions while emphasizing the importance of evidence in attributing blame on a country that itself has suffered gravely from terrorism.
India, nonetheless, preferred a military response rather than engaging in diplomatic channels to defuse tensions. The Indian Air Force conducted an aerial strike, claiming to have targeted a terrorist training camp in Balakot, Pakistan. Interestingly, for a state that spends billions of dollars annually on its armed forces, the corporate-run media took the bait of setting the narrative including claiming the 300+ dead in the Balakot incident.
The controversial claim of neutralizing over 300 terrorists drew sharp criticism from different quarters in India, especially the opposition. A close confidant of Rahul Gandhi and overseas chairman of Congress, Sam Pitroda, alleged the government to have failed in coming forth with concrete facts as the global media had denied the claims made by the Indian government and state media.
RPN Singh, now a BJP member, was shocked at the IAF claim about the number of casualties in the attack. However, the Indian government attacked him instead of providing evidence to substantiate their claim. Another Congress stalwart and a former CM, Digvijaya Singh cast doubts on the veracity of the government’s claim. He was, instead, subjected to harsh criticism from the government ministers. The failure of IAF to deliver payloads on the supposed target despite the hype surrounding the mission, underscored a grotesque discrepancy between India’s military posturing and practical capabilities, ultimately revealing its limitations. Furthermore, the lack of transparency in sharing evidence added salt to the injury resulting in global embarrassment that gravely damaged India’s reputation.
The retaliatory air strikes, known as Operation Swift Retort, conducted by the Armed Forces of Pakistan, specifically targeted strategically significant Indian military installations. During this operation, the Pakistan Army successfully intercepted and brought down two Indian jets, resulting in the subsequent capture of Wing Commander Abhinandan. India, despite categorizing Pakistan’s actions as an ‘act of war,’ unexpectedly faced a state of operational paralysis. On the same day when the Indian Air Force was on high alert, the world witnessed a tragic incident of friendly fire when India’s own MI-17 helicopter was struck by a surface-to-air missile.
India, in utter desperation, hinted at the possible use of a nuclear weapon, shedding the long-held no-first-use approach. While the Air Force Chief was clueless about what his next step would be, his press conference was nothing more than a drama; holding a piece of AMRAAM, accusing Pakistan of using F16s in the dogfight.
On the contrary, some Indian intellectuals have attempted to reshape the narrative around the event of Operation Swift Retort, by trying to portray the defeat in broad daylight as a victory, which is gross and a self-defeating exercise. For one, the recently published book, Anger Management: The Troubled Diplomatic Relationship between India and Pakistan, by Ajay Bisaria a former Indian High Commissioner to Pakistan, has been criticized for untrue claims and a misleading narrative that portrays the Balakot airstrike as an Indian diplomatic success.
It was seen as an attempt to reshape history in favour of the Modi government before the 2019 general elections to perpetuate Hindutva-inspired policies. The book is widely condemned for its pervasive intellectual dishonesty. As expected, the book fuels international debates on India’s actions in occupied Kashmir. The growing perception of India’s falsehoods in statecraft complicates diplomatic relations, emphasizing the need for transparent dialogue to avoid shame and humiliation on the global stage.
The facts of the ruins of a destroyed aircraft, calling the captured pilot a war hero, and the loss of servicemen to friendly fire cannot be stressed as a victory. In the face of persistently peddled fictitious stories, it is essential to acknowledge historical truths. The attempt to rewrite history may suit the interests of certain politicians but the penetrating truth remains vivid, ready to be served whenever the need arises.

Courtesy