India’s aspirations to build a “new normal” and rule the area were crushed by PAF on February 27, also known as Surprise Day. 40 Indian CPRF personnel were killed at Pulwama on February 14, 2019, during a false flag operation, which was accidentally revealed when The Wire news agency published WhatsApp conversations between Indian anchor Arnab Goswami and the former CEO of the rating agency Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC), Partho Dasgupta. The conversations revealed the evil plans made by Modi’s government to blame Pakistan for the false Pulwama attack, followed by a botched air strike on Balakot in February 2019. On February 26, 2019, the IAF crossed the LOC in the dead of night, quickly dropped their payload, and returned without causing any damage. The Mirages taking part in the operation fired their armaments against 15 pine trees hidden in thick vegetation at a distance of 40 kilometers.
On February 27, 2019, PAF retaliated with a quid pro quo plus in the light of the day and aimed multiple military targets in IIOJK. However, through careful maneuvers, the payloads were not dropped on actual targets, rather they were dropped at a safe distance from the selected targets to show capability yet not escalating the tension.
In the resultant air-to-air combat, two IAF fighter jets were shot down, while an IAF rescue helicopter crashed in a fratricide incident. Furthermore, an Indian pilot, Wing Commander Abhinandan was captured by Pakistan Army.
Operation Swift Retort showed PAF’s capability to strike any Indian military installation in IIOJK. It also highlighted PAF’s professionalism and excellence when it comes to air combat. Contrarily, it exposed IAF’s vulnerabilities as the IAF Chief later vociferously argued in favor of IAF’s modernization.
The strike showed that Pakistan had confidence in PAF’s offensive team. The civilian & military leadership knew that they would overwhelm Indian defence radars, hit the targets with precision, send the message across and at the same time be prepared for a counter-response from IAF.
Besides, PAF dominated the combat air environment. The event clearly indicated that Pakistan is capable of not only handling an Indian offensive operation in its territory through its defence measures but is also capable of carrying out a counter offensive at will and discretion in broad daylight. All IAF communications were jammed by PAF’s Electronic Warfare aircraft, resulting in chaos and confusion in IAF’s Command echelon.
India, in order to hide its humiliation, built a narrative with respect to the Balakot incident that one of its Mig-21s had shot down Pakistan’s F-16 aircraft which was refuted by an influential Foreign Policy magazine based on interviews with US Department of Defence (DoD) officials, who verified that no F-16 was missing from the Pakistani inventory.
Even the US (Lockheed Martin) refuted the Indian claims of IAF’s shooting down a PAF’s F-16. US said that all Pakistani F-16s were accounted for and none were missing. Even Pakistan’s biggest critic Dr. Christine Fair, said at a literature festival that no Pakistani F-16 was shot down. Hence, these claims and counter claims exposed India’s story of lies and deceit.
On one hand, the surgical strike was touted as a great success and declared as a ‘new norm’, while on the other side, India’s senior leadership blamed their failure on the non-availability of aircraft like Rafale, which according to them would have changed the outcome of Balakot incident. PM Modi after the Balakot episode said, “the country is feeling the absence of Rafale. If there was Rafale with us, the result probably would have been different.”
India is already operating state-of-the-art SU-30 and Mirage 2000 aircrafts that are capable of delivering payload with precision, but still the IAF could not utilize these to their full potential. Likewise, Indian claim that then Wing Commander Abhinandan shot down PAF’s F-16 with a R-73 missile was also unmasked as the wreckage of Wing Commander Abhinandan’s Mig-21 showed that both of the R-73 missiles were still attached to its launcher.
PAF chose and engaged six military targets in broad daylight. The targets were locked but the strikes were conducted in open spaces. The reason for such an action was to demonstrate Pakistan’s will, resolve and capability to respond – while ensuring that there was no loss of life in the process. Although Pakistan retained the escalation ladder, it made a conscious decision to de-escalate for regional peace and stability.
The only purpose of Balakot strike was to try and embarrass Pakistan and its state institutions domestically and internationally, hyphenating Pakistan with international terrorism. However, the attempt failed miserably. The incident established a ‘new normal’ and that new normal was Pakistan’s demonstration of its resolve and a warning for any future miscalculation and misadventures or false flag Operations.