Source: The Tribune
|An Indian Air Force French Dassault Rafale fighter in twin-seater configuration (File Photo)|
New Delhi: On February 25, 2019, the Indian Air Force (IAF) base at Gwalior was abuzz with activity. There were discussions on the operational readiness of the security forces after the February 14 terror attack on a convoy that killed 40 CRPF personnel in Pulwama, Jammu and Kashmir.
Around 4 pm on February 25, things became clear when Mirage 2000 fighter jets were fitted with Israeli-made Spice 2000 bombs and “fed in” with geo-coordinates of the Jaish-e-Mohammad terror camp at Balakote, Pakistan, which was hit by pilots some 12 hours later at 3.30 am on February 26.
This was the first penetration into Pakistan since the 1971 Indo-Pak War.
How geopolitics has changed since then is a turnaround. The Balakote airstrikes and what followed on February 27 and 28 – the air battle in which IAF and Pakistan lost a plane each – showed there was a possibility of a clash outside the nuclear threat.
Director General of Centre for Air Power Studies Air Marshal Anil Chopra (retd) says, “Balakote was the first time ever in peacetime that the IAF struck targets deep inside Pakistan. It has now set a new normal.”
“It shall be repeated again in case of another terrorist incident,” he said.
The IAF’s strike capability has since been enhanced and Rafale jets have joined the fleet. “Rafale is a game changer. It has much more capable and longer-range stand-off weapons than other jets with the IAF,” says Air Marshal Chopra. “
Rafale jets carry missiles that can travel a longer distance than the ones fired on the morning of February 26. They also have better air-to-air missiles.
Also, in August 2019, Parliament amended Article 370 of the Constitution by scrapping the special status to Jammu and Kashmir and bifurcating it into two separate union territories – J&K and Ladakh.
The two countries agreed to uphold the ceasefire along the Line of Control (LoC) in February 2021, which is still holding strong.
However, this does not mean that terror camps like those hit at Balakote four years ago don’t exist anymore. Indian Security agencies estimate that four JeM terror camps exist across the 198-km International Border in J&K and another 18-20 camps across the LoC.