Kashmir is a disputed region between India and Pakistan, both nuclear armed neighbors and enemies. Half of the region is currently administered by Pakistan, while the other half by India.
The majority of Kashmirs population is Muslim and opted to join Pakistan after the British divided Old India into Hindu-majority India and Muslim-majority Pakistan. Kashmir was given the option to decide which they would like to join based on the religion of their population and was subsequently signed over to India. Pakistan responded by asking the tribal chiefs of neighboring North-Western Frontier Province to attack and take back the territory. Half of Kashmir was then freed from Indian rule while the other half remained. To this date, Kashmir, controlled by over 600,000 Indian troops has seen widespread violence and oppression as well as a gross violations of human rights.
Pakistan has been accused by India of radicalizing the Kashmiri population against India whereas India has been accused by the UN and Pakistan of gross human rights abuses, rape, extra-judicial killings and forced conversions against the Kashmiri people. Both nuclear armed countries have fought three wars over Kashmir. India in 1948 agreed to United Nations Security Council Resolution 47, adopted on 21 April 1948. This dictated that they hold a free and impartial plebiscite. They have since refused to hold this UN-mandated vote which would allow the Kashmiri people to determine their own fate.
On the morning of the 14th of February 2019, a 20 year old Kashmiri youth by the name of Adil Ahmad Dar, packed his car with 300 kgs (660 lbs.) of highly explosive material including RDX. He went onto a piece of highway and waited for his target, a convoy of Indian troops.
These troops were part of the almost 600,000 Indian troops stationed in Kashmir. The convoy of vehicles was of 78 vehicles carrying more than 2500 troops of the Central Reserve Police Force (CPRF). The convoy itself was traveling on the Jammu Srinagar National Highway, the most protected piece of road in Indian Kashmir, surrounded by barbed wire and always under intense observation and camera surveillance with regular security checks. At 3:15 pm on Valentine’s Day 2019, Adil rammed his explosives-landed car into a bus carrying 40 CPRF soldiers, killing them and Adil instantly.
Not a mere 15 minutes after the news broke on Indian media, accusations began to be solely directed towards Pakistan. Calls for revenge against Pakistan were subsequently advocated by fiery statements from all (yes I do mean quite literally all) Indian news anchors and in less than an hour, the vast majority of the Indian population were made to believe that Pakistan itself had carried out a terrorist attack against innocent Indian troops and now we had to teach Pakistan a lesson. And all of this without a shred of evidence. In reality , evidence pointed to the contrary, that Adil was a disgruntled Kashmiri youth who had had enough of Indian troops in his homeland. A retired Indian three-star general, who was also General Officer Commanding In Chief of Indian Army Northern Command, was quick to point out that smuggling this amount of high-explosives from across the Pakistan-India border was impossible and the explosives likely came from a nearby construction site.
Some other Indian analysts also pointed out that Adil was probably one of the thousands of Kashmiri youth that had had enough of Indian oppression in Kashmir with mass-murders, mass-arrests, rapes, kidnappings and thousands of men, women and children blinded by Indian pellet guns. These gross human rights violations are well documented by independent and international news agencies and journalists as well as UN observers. A video subsequently appeared from several years ago in which an Indian soldier, as was their usual routine, resorted to the humiliation of the Kashmiri Muslims by pushing Adil to the ground and putting his military boots on his face, while his fellow soldiers pointed their guns to the flailing Adil, writhing in the dirt under an Indian boot. It is entirely possible that after being humiliated, tortured and wrongly detained he became radicalized as this was the only way to get back at his oppressors.
His mother and father reported him leaving home about two months after this incident, never to return. But as all of this evidence was presented, the Indian media simply threw it aside and focused their drama/screaming-contest bulletins at the sole fact that Pakistan had directly used terrorists to attack Indian troops inside India and we simply had to respond, and that too in an escalatory manner. Indian media was instrumental in building up this false narrative simply because the general public could be more gullible and fired up by this narrative. The amount of fake news widely circulating in India was astonishing, as propagated by its top media houses. In a purported phone call by an alleged member, Jaish-e-Muhammad, a terrorist organization that originated in pre-9/11 Pakistan (the organization has been subsequently banned in Pakistan for many years, with many of its activists arrested) called Indian intelligence bureaus to inform them of the organization taking responsibility of the bombing. This call and the groups origination in Pakistan was all that the Indian media needed and immediately calls for Pakistani blood were shouted in Indian late night and morning TV segments alike by seasoned award-winning journalists, even though India failed to provide any shred of evidence linking Adil to anyone in Pakistan either by the phone he used, his internet history, SIGINT or any of the equipment he carried and used none of which linked to Pakistan in any way. This frenzy continued for almost two weeks and the public were blinded by mass hate and delusion that Pakistan had attacked India, with the fire fanned continuously by the India media and in the midst of all this was the hard-line Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi, who had advocated for Indian Hindu supremacy and appointed convicted Indian racist terrorists (terrorism charges against Indian Muslims) to key ministry positions. The biggest point; he had elections coming up in less than two months.
Modi, A Patient Of Proverbial Pyrophilia
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who is a known nationalist and has hinted repeatedly at establishing a Hindu supremacist India, stood by and watched as information he and many in the country’s top military, intelligence and government brass knew to be false propagate like wildfire throughout the Indian public. Acting as the judge, jury and the executioner, Modi announced Adil’s sole ties with Pakistan and pandering the public and news media’s Pakistan-revenge frenzy, announced that “retribution is the only option” to deter any further mischief by Pakistan. At the time, his top aides and almost everyone in the Indian intelligence community knew that Adil was a local Kashmiri youngster with no ties to Pakistan whatsoever and who had been radicalized by the many brutalities of Indian military troops in Kashmir. It was clear from Modi’s speeches that an attack on Pakistan, like the but larger than the 2016 so-called “surgical strikes’ by Indian commandos inside Pakistani territories (an actual surgical strikes involves air dropping commandos deep inside hostile territory using strategic airlift; none of which happened), was imminent.
On the 19th of February, the Pakistani Prime Minister in an address to the people of both Pakistan and India reiterated his claims that Pakistan was in no way involved in the attack on innocent Indian troops and that the attack was a local one. He also offered to assist India in any way for investigations into the incident. In the end, he warned that if India attacks Pakistan in any way “we will not just think of retaliating, we will retaliate”.
The Indian Strike: A Botched Operation
During the early morning hours of the 26th of February, almost the entirety of the Pakistani Air Force (PAF) was airborne. This extreme state of alert had been in effect for the last week. Many interceptor and strike aircraft including Pakistani Mirages, JF-17s and F-16s were airborne flying BARCAPS (barrier combat air patrols). One of these detected a squadron of Indian Air Force (IAF) fighters vectoring in near the south of Pakistan, and air defense was alerted and the nearby airborne BARCAP was redirected to their location, but the IAF fighters broke off and returned without ever crossing the border. A similar situation occurred a few minutes later near Bahawalpur, a town in Pakistan a bit more to the north. Just like before, they broke off. What the PAF didn’t realize was that these two potential incursions were distractions. At around 1:30 am in the morning a formation of six Indian Mirage 2000 aircraft in the primary role as well as four in the reserve role, that were going to drop bombs on the alleged terrorist targets inside Pakistan, along with two permanent escorting fighter aircraft of the Indian Air Force Central Command took off from Gwalior Air Base some 800 kilometers from the Pakistani border.
En route, the strike formation was escorted by several Indian Su-30MKIs.
Refueling during the journey was provided by an Ilyushin II-78 aircraft.
Two Embraer ERJ 145 “Netra” airborne in Airborne Early Warning and Control System (AEW&CS) provided air surveillance and support to the strike package.
Technical Data Referencing
Most Technical data i.e. Missile configurations, specific package types and names in the upcoming sections have been sourced from AC (R) Kaiser’s article that originally appeared in the following. (This article also borrows some of the technical wording): kaiser-aeronaut.blogspot.com
It originated from the Southeast towards a children’s seminary in Jabba village near the international border which Indian intelligence claimed was a terrorist training center.
At 2:45 am, the six Mirages each carrying a 900 kg Spice-2000 Israeli-made precision guided bomb (the biggest conventional bomb that can be delivered by the Indian Air Force) dropped them in autonomous GPS-assisted delivery mode 40 kms from their target and immediately broke off, but not before intruding 10 kilometers inside Pakistani territory. The five bombs (the sixth bomb failed to release) fell several hundred meters from their intended target in an empty ditch, killing nothing but a few trees and injuring a sparrow.
Pakistani F-16s and JF-17s were immediately vectored to the area and even had three Indian mirages locked on with their high-range BVR (beyond visual range) missiles, but could not fire because the present rules of engagement (ROE) did not authorize a shoot-down.
The Indian strike mission was a complete and utter failure. And thank God that it was so, since the seminary they intended to target was a boarding house for over 200 children aged 8-15. The seminary is one of many similar ones in the country where faithful children memorize the Holy Quran.
The exact reason why the bombs failed to reach their targets is a matter of discussion but the generally accepted cause is that there was a failure in the mission planning. A calculation error occurred between the target elevation sensed by the bomb’s GPS targeting system and orthometric elevation in aeronautical charts, a theory that was first credited to the Australian Strategic Policy Institute. Satellite data provided by European Space Imaging seemed to indicate that the bombs would overshoot their targets, and all by a similar distance and in the same direction, indicating a orthometric elevation that was calculated as less than the actual one.
A Pakistan Air Force Aeronautical Engineer Group Captain(R) Parvez Mahmood, who has extensive experience interpreting satellite imagery thinks that, “determining a precise 3D point on Earth requires satisfying a lot of variables, so errors similar to the one in the Balakot strike are not unusual.”
Indian Prime Minster Narendra Modi did state in a recent interview that “Everyone was of the thought that we should abort the mission (on the 26th) because of the poor weather but I said if the weather is bad and there is cloud cover that is beneficial to us because we will be saved from Pakistani radars due to the clouds so I gave the go-ahead”. Of course in reality, radar doesn’t work that way at all and can easily detect aircraft and see through ‘clouds’ or any weather phenomenon for that matter.
There was another option of delivering the bombs in their electro-optically guided mode but this was deemed not suitable probably because of complete cloud cover and heavy rain in the target site. This would complicate things as the weaponry would need to be guided until impact which would be very difficult to accomplish.
Indian media subsequently claimed that the Indian Air Force had entered Pakistan and dropped thousands of kilograms of bombs on Pakistani terrorist training camps in Balakot, killing 300-500 people. Although, of course, as evidence began pouring in over the next few days, many Indian media channels took their statements back and some even ran segments on how the Balakot operation was a ‘botched’ operation. Some even went as far as pointing out Modi’s enthusiasm to go ahead with the operation because of the incoming general elections.
The Pakistani Response
The Pakistani military was the first to acknowledge the attack and said the bombs failed and missed their targets. The DG ISPR (Director General Inter Services Public Relations) in a press briefing a few hours after the attack claimed that “we said that if you attack us we will surprise you, now wait for our surprise” and that “response will now come at a time and place of our choosing, and we have already decided our response”.
The Indians at this point knew that Pakistan would almost certainly retaliate and put their entire air force on its highest possible level of alert, something that had not been done in India’s history ever and was reserved only for imminent nuclear attack scenarios.
At The Pakistani side, a joint session of the Parliament (National Assembly) was called and there was a unanimous vote for retaliation.
Not more than an hour after the Indian strike Pakistan for one of the only times in its history convened the National Command Authority (NCA oversees Pakistan’s nuclear arsenals) in operational mode and the government’s chief military advisor, The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee alongwith the chiefs of the Army, Air Force and Navy as well as DG ISI (Inter-Services Intelligence akin to CIA in America) briefed the political leadership on the type, range and variety of responses. There was a consensus that the response should be measured and as controlled as possible, as Prime Minister Imran Khan repeatedly voiced his concerns of two nuclear powers engaging in airstrikes against each other, and as such even the amount of bombs were to be in equal measure. But it was decided that the Pakistani strikes would target major Indian military installation as opposed to Indian Hindu seminaries with children inside. The Pakistani Air Force was well prepared for any and all options at that time was completely mobile and 100% operational. Prime Minister Imran Khan then directly ordered the Air Chief Marshal to execute plans for an airstrike for military targets in the Poonch-Rajauri-Naushera Sector in Kashmir.
The Pakistani Strike: Operation Swift Retort
The Pakistani Operation, the very next morning on the 27th of February in broad daylight, has been since named Operation Swift Retort.
IAF was on its most highest state of readiness on the night of the 26th of February with CAPs flown extensively and air defense on highest alert. As morning dawned on the 27th of February, IAF eased off from the highest state of alert and waited for the following night for the PAF retaliation.
It was a bright and clear morning at 9:20 am on the 27th of February, 2019 as a large swarm of Pakistani aircraft were detected by the Indians as the strike package headed towards their assigned targets in north eastern India
Pakistan’s strike package consisted of (from No 15 Squadron) 2 single-seat Mirage 5PA aircraft that carried two 2000-lb (same as IAF Spice 2000 bombs) H-4 SOW (Stand Off Weapon) bombs with electro-optical guidance units (theses bombs were indigenously developed by Pakistan at the Pakistan Air Weapons Complex) and 2 dual-seat Mirage IIIDP that were in control aircraft role in order to electro-optically guide the bombs to their targets with the second pilot acting as a guidance operator via a screen in front of him and data link to the bombs onboard camera and control surfaces as well as (from No 16 squadron) two indigenously-developed PAC JF-17 Thunder aircraft each jet armed with two 1000-lb MK-83 REK bombs with GPS-inertial guidance units and control fins.
The strike package aircraft mentioned above were escorted by a pair of Block II PAC JF-17 Thunders and a pair of Lockheed-Martin F-16s armed to the teeth with air-to-air missiles.
A further of 8 JF-17s and 8 F-16s patrolled the border and acted as reinforcements with BVR missiles locked and loaded.
Airborne early warning and control role was fulfilled by the Pakistan Air Force’s Saab Erieye
Electronic Warfare suites were provided by PAF’s DA-20 Falcon which were instrumental in disabling Indian interceptor’s locking and targeting capabilities as well as communication jamming of Indian fighters
As the strike began, the JF-17s dropped their MK-83 bombs in autonomous ‘fire-and-forget’ mode and broke off and the PAF Mirage 5PA’s dropped their H-4 bombs from inside Pakistan’s borders (as the H-4 has a range of 120 km) and broke off as well but the Mirage IIIDP had to cross the Indian border as the H-4 had to be precision guided by the second pilot as he electro-optically refined the bomb’s path till impact using a high-resolution image from the bomb’s seeker head is relayed and display in the cockpit of the controller aircraft.
The target picked were empty grounds and fields for general-area bombing of open spaces (GABOS) of the 10 Brigade and 120 Brigade Headquarters of the Indian Army in Poonch and Rajouri sectors respectively, which were targeted with two 1000-lb MK-83 bombs each. Two large logistics and ammunition depots of the Indian Army were targeted with a 2000-lb H-4 bomb each.
This level of restrain was given because of Prime Minister Imran Khan’s orders as to ensure no loss of life or collateral damage while ensuring that this will not cause a run off chain of escalatory events leading to an all-out war leading to a nuclear stand off. Infrastructure damage was allowed. It has been calculated by experts that if the bombs were redirected a few tens of meters towards officers barracks or soldiers bunkers then the total estimated military causalities would be near to 4000 with approximately 6000 wounded. Even more troubling was when later it was learnt that very senior Indian Army officers such as Commander Northern command Indian Army Lt. Gen. Ranbir Singh and Commander 16 Corps Lt. Gen. Paramjit Singh had left a high level meeting at the Rajouri HQ just minutes before the attack, both three-star generals.
The First Shoot Down
Subsequently, all Indian patrolling aircraft were redirected to counter the Pakistani threat as Indian air defense radars frantically rang their alarms.
A pair of Pakistani F-16s led by Squadron Leader Hassan Siddique got two approaching Indian Su-30MKIs in the range of their AIM-120C-5 Advanced Medium Range Air-to-Air Missile (AMRAAM). After getting valid firing parameters, Hassan fired the missile, and announced ‘Fox Three’. Missile flight data relayed by the missile indicated the missile had found its target. Ground radars saw the Su-30MKI blip make a few tight orbits and then disappear from the radar screen. No hard-evidence such as wreckage or aircraft crew casualties, unfortunately, has been made available by the IAF. But the Indian authorities in a tri-services press conference did hold up an exploded AIM-120 missile piece in an attempt to tell American authorities that PAF had misused American technology against India. The exploded missile provided the first concrete proof the AMRAAM found its target.
American authorities although later responded to the Indian protest as US State Department’s deputy spokesman Robert Palladino stated that, “as a matter of policy, we don’t publicly comment on the contents of bilateral agreements involving US defense technologies.” Later on 28 April, The Indian Express quoted a US official as saying, “Soon after we were informed by the Indian side about Pakistan using F-16 aircraft on February 27, we informed the Indians that we will not be sharing any information on the subject as it is a bilateral matter between US and Pakistan.”
No doubt, the Americans were actually pretty happy seeing that their military products had once again demonstrated their cutting edge technology and lethality.
The Second Shoot Down
The second shoot down of the day was embarrassingly a friendly-fire incident for the IAF. The Terminal Air defense unit at India’s Srinagar Air Base saw a slow-speed radar contact heading its way and the Chief Operations Officer ordered it shot down. A single Israeli-made Spyder SAM was then fired but the target turned out to be an Indian Mi-17 V-5 helicopter from the No. 145 Helicopter unit which crashed near Budgam, killing all six people on-board as well as a civilian on the ground. Leaked reports later indicated that it was thought to be a Unmanned Aerial vehicle (UAV) drone. The COP was later arrested in a case of manslaughter and is facing fratricide related charges.
The Third Shoot Down
This is the most famous of the three shoot downs pf Indian aircraft that occurred after the Pakistani airstrikes in retaliation for the Balakot Indian airstrike as the Indian pilot (now infamous Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman) ejected over Pakistani territory and was captured.
After Squadron Leader Hassan Siddique shot down the IAF Su-30MKI, its pair Su-30 was acting strangely and rang out a ‘Bingo’ (low fuel) warning to its radar controller and exited the theater of operations at high speed after only 25 minutes being airborne, despite the Su-30MKI having at least a two hour endurance on combat patrols. The patrol leader remaining IAF Mirage 2000s also reported that his radar along with his wing-man’s had malfunctioned. The commander in charge of the radar asked the commander, “Confirm you can employ your missiles without the radars?” and when the reply was no, the Mirage 2000s were removed from the area.
To counter the diminishing IAF air presence five Mig-21 Bisons, armed with 2 R-73 short range infrared-seeking dogfight missiles and 2 R-77 active radar-guided BVR missiles, were scrambled from Srinagar AFB of which Abhinandan ‘Nandu’ was fourth in the sequence. He was vectored to a pair of PAF fighters. While he was getting his bearings, he was drifting dangerously close to The PAF F-16’s BVR missile range and his radar controller, a female voice, was shouting “Nandu, flow cold; Nandu, if you hear me, flow cold” as his Mig 21 was hit by an AIM-120 missile fired from the F-16 of Wing Commander Nauman Ali Khan, the Officer Commanding of PAF’s No. 29 ‘Aggressors’ squadron. Abhinandan later reported he did not clearly hear the controller’s warnings and managed to eject just as his aircraft lost control. He parachuted and landed just 5 Kms from the Line Of Control (LOC) inside Pakistan Controlled Kashmir.
All IAF and PAF fighters were subsequently called back or backed off on their own.
Highly placed and reliable sources inside Pakistan Air Force’s Northern Air Command’s Air Officer Commanding’s office have intimated to this correspondent that a total of Eight IAF targets were locked and ready to be fired upon by PAF F-16s but clearance to shoot was only given to two of them so as to curb further escalation.
Imran Khan: The Statesman
Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan in a televised address later during the day, after the strike had ended, stated that better sense should prevail and offered to hold peace talks with India and stated that “two nuclear powers can not even think of going to war”. “Our action was only intended to convey that if you can come in to our country, we can do the same. Now, it is imperative that we act with wisdom and sense to resolve the dispute,” he said.
“In my earlier speech I had stated that if India plays war games, we will retaliate. We waited, and today we took action. It was our plan to not cause any collateral damage, and not to cause any casualties. We simply wanted to show capability,” Imran added.
“I want to now address India and say let sanity prevail. Let’s think sensibly. All wars in the world have been started on miscalculations on the time and the human cost of war.”
“I ask India; with our weapons capability (nuclear)…. on both sides, can we afford a miscalculation? It will neither be in my control or Modi’s,” he said.
Later during the day in a speech to the National Assembly Imran Khan announced that he will release the captured Indian pilot in a gesture of peace and as an genuine indication from Pakistan in an effort to reduce tensions.
Wing Commander Abhinandan during his brief stay with the Pakistani Army stated on camera that the Pakistan Army was a “very professional service” and that he had been treated very well and that the “tea (here) is fantastic”.
The next day he was brought to Wahgah Border crossing and handed over to Indian authorities as he was unceremoniously and discourteously seen off by a cold-faced Islamabad-based Indian Air Adviser.
India Claims shooting down Pakistani F-16
Indian media houses began claiming that Abhinandan shot down a PAF F-16 before going down and this false narrative was picked up by the Indian Air Force in an attempt to save face. Their narrative, like their planes, was also shot down when it was revealed that the U.S. conducted a count of Pakistani F-16s. The Pentagon officials reported a full and complete inventory. This was reported first by Foreign Policy magazine’s Lara Seligman.
The Potential Nuclear Stand Off
Apparently disgruntled by how the day’s events unfolded it was decided by Indian authorities late during the night on the 27th of February that they would conduct a conventional ballistic missile strike on Pakistani cities and target suspected target houses. This plan was later confirmed by both PM Narendra Modi and Imran Khan during speeches they made several days later.
Missile strikes are very high up on the escalation ladder and would have most definitely prompted the start of all-out war between the nuclear-bomb armed neighbors.
Apparently, the Indian officials had already decided that they would proceed with the missile attack. Pakistani spies inside the Indian meeting immediately informed their handlers in the ISI on a priority basis, even if it meant compromising their cover in certain cases.
The Prime Minister was woken up and an NCA emergency meeting was called in a secure underground nuclear bunker. It was consequently decided that if India does fire missiles at Pakistani cities, the response would not be in the 1:1 theater rather they would fire 3 Pakistani ballistic missiles on Indian cities for every 1 Indian missile fired. Prime Minister Imran Khan then ordered as a precaution for the first time in Pakistan’s history for the nuclear warheads to be armed and deployed and to prep the non-nuclear conventional missiles for launch. The warheads were activated and placed on Shaheen-2 Intermediate Range Ballistic Missiles (IRBMs) and the missiles were placed out in the open. The conventional missiles were primed for launch, awaiting just the press of a button.
Imran Khan then ordered the Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi to urgently call the foreign minsters/secretary of state of the U.S., U.K., China, Russia and France and inform them of the severity of the situation. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was at the moment in Vietnam for the Donald Trump-Kim Jong Un summit and phoned the Indian FM to tell her that American satellites had seen Pakistani missiles armed and ready in the open and they would fire if any Indian missiles fell on Pakistan. The Indians subsequently backed off but this incident can be seen as the closest the world got to nuclear war since the Cuban Missile crises.
India and Pakistan have had a long and troubled history. We have fought many wars with countless innocents dead. India sees Pakistan as her biggest threat and Pakistan sees India as the same. The Dynamic of the threat is mutual. The only way forward is through dialogue. The only meaningful dialogue worth mentioning can only be on the Kashmir issue. We will live, prosper or perish together, whether we like it or not. Such is the tyranny of geography.