The Balakot crisis revealed how the Modi government was willing to risk taking two nuclear-states to war for political gain — the consequences of which could have been disastrous for South Asia.

Two years ago, South Asia came to the brink of a catastrophic conflict. On February 14, 2019, a young Kashmiri man in Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu and Kashmir (IIOJK) carried out a suicide attack on a contingent of the Indian Occupation Army, killing 44 soldiers.

Using this incident as an excuse, India first blamed, then attacked Pakistan in the dead of the night on February 26, 2019. That the five bombs lobbed by its Mirage 2000 jets landed in a Pakistani forest, killing a crow, is besides the point. The real issue is that the Indian Government was spoiling for a fight because elections were around the corner, and nothing wins votes like war and ‘victory’.

Pakistan responded the very next day, on February 27, in broad daylight, hitting non-military targets with no collateral damage to demonstrate both will and capacity to defend itself and underline the fact that aggression against it will not go unanswered.

In the accompanying melee, Pakistan also shot down at least one Indian Air Force fighter jet, which had violated Pakistani airspace and captured its pilot, while the overwhelmed and confused Indian air defences shot down one of their own Mi-17 helicopters, killing six Indian Air Force personnel.

This was neither the outcome nor the victory the Indian government was hoping for. Yet, the Indian government and its vast disinformation empire, built an electoral victory on it.

To paraphrase Milton, what though the field be lost; the airwaves were not lost. Defeat in the battlefield became victory in the eyes of the Indian public with the help of pliant TV anchors and social media misinformation.

It is a lesson for students of politics and social behaviour how in the face of the wreckage of its aircraft in public view and the downed pilot very much in Pakistani custody, India declared victory.

A government that had just gambled on taking two nuclear armed countries to war — the consequences of which would not have been limited to them but to the region, indeed the world — had been rewarded, first, for suffering a shocking defeat against a much smaller foe, and second, for staking the peace, security, lives and livelihood of over 1.5 billion people of South Asia.

Rather than the defeat chastening it or forcing it to ponder the consequences of its abdication of logic and rationality, the Indian BJP regime further played up India’s aggressive actions against Pakistan. Leaders of a supposed democracy threatened Pakistan with nuclear annihilation and dismemberment.

The tragedy is that if there are any lessons to be learned from the entire episode, these are: an electorate which has been force-fed a diet of jingoism and narrow religion-based nationalism with the bogey of an “other” (Pakistan in this case) will reward brinkmanship.

More ominously, it will demand more of the same diet until at some point the leadership is pushed, because of its own rhetoric and the expectations it has created, into doing something which is irretrievable and consequences of which are uncontainable.

In January 2021, revelations about an Indian TV anchor much in favour with the ruling Indian dispensation, Arnab Goswami’s WhatsApp chat leaks, confirmed what Pakistan had been arguing all along.

Pakistan had argued that India stages false flag operations, maligns Pakistan with terrorism-related allegations, stokes hyper-nationalism in the country with the help of its cronies in the Indian media (the largest purveyor of fake news) and then manipulates national sentiment in its bid to win elections.

In the past few years, India has been trying to establish “a new normal,” a thinly veiled term for legitimising acts of aggression against Pakistan at whatever pretext they wish on a given day. The proponents of this approach believe that space exists for limited conflict between the two nuclear armed countries, and it can be manipulated for domestic political and electoral purposes.

The BJP government’s illegal and unilateral actions of August 5, 2019, to change the internationally-recognised disputed status of Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu and Kashmir and alter its demographic structure — in flagrant violation of the UN Security Council resolutions, UN Charter and bilateral agreements — have engendered further volatility in South Asia.

If the leadership in India is averse to drawing the right conclusions from the consequences of its actions over the last two years, it is the responsibility of the international community to spell these out. The path India has chosen does not lead either to greatness or to peace and security. Its actions are not those of a democracy.

The international community’s inability to say this aloud will further contribute to a sense of entitlement in the BJP regime, making the next crisis more certain, its trajectory unpredictable and more dangerous.

South Asia deserves better. The nations of South Asia need to focus on the socio-economic development of their peoples. This can only happen when there is peace in the region. And peace is only possible with the resolution of the core dispute of Jammu and Kashmir in accordance with the relevant UN Security Council Resolutions. One would like to hope that better sense prevails for the sake of the people of South Asia.

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