Listen Text

Executive Summary

A talk on “Operation Swift Retort: Crisis Escalation in South Asia and Response Options for Pakistan” was organized on February 27, 2023. Air Cdre (R) Kaiser Tufail joined as a speaker on the subject, and the discussants included Former Chairman PAEC Parvez Butt, Ambassador Fauzia Nasreen, AVM Faiz Amir, DG ISSRA Major General Muhammad Raza Aizad, Squadron Leader Waqas Haider, and researchers from ACDA, and CASS. The talk was followed by detailed discussion and a question answer session. Pakistan launched Operation Swift Retort the very next day in response to India’s surgical strike into Balakot on February 26, 2019. F-16 and JF-17 fighters of the Pakistan Air Force intercepted the IAF aircrafts that were following our attack package and two of them – Mig-21 and SU-30 were hit; the MIG-21 fell into Pakistan’s territory while it is difficult to determine whether the SU-30 was downed, slightly damaged or evaded the AMRAM missile fired by a PAF F-16 on 27 February 2019. The PAF fighters were restrained by the prevalent rules of engagement from crossing over into Indian territory. The PAF was well-prepared for a whole range of targeting options, and it settled for a stand-off attack similar to the IAF’s, with the important difference that it launched an attack close to a military target in the Poonch-Rajauri-Naushera Sector in Indian Held Kashmir (IHK). Modi appeared to view punitive measures against Pakistan as critical to securing victory in the impending elections, rendering him entirely unmindful of the possibility of escalation between two nuclear armed states – Pakistan and India. While on the Pakistani side, the risk of escalation weighed heavily on the political and military leadership. Consequently, a consensus was reached over a measured and controlled response. The strategy of restraint in which the PAF agreed to carry out general area bombing of open spaces in military garrisons near the Line of Control (LOC) in Indian-held Kashmir (IHK) was aimed at preventing escalation. Clearly, Indians miscalculated Pakistan’s resolve and ability to pay back promptly. Therefore, post-failure, a facade of ‘technical asymmetry’ has been propounded by India to cover up IAF’s dysfunction at the operational and tactical levels. To redeem the lost prestige of the military, it is entirely possible that a false flag operation may yet be contrived by Modi – a dangerous prospect that the world needs to be watchful about. The two nuclear powers were on the brink of a terrible catastrophe is something which needs serious reflection, especially for the initiator of the conflict. Balakot incident indicates that the both sides kept the conflict limited, however, the event also demonstrates the uneasy state of deterrence stability in South Asia. Pakistan could go beyond what Pakistan did in response to Balakot incident, however, it lacks international credibility at diplomatic, economic, and political fronts. On the other hand, India would continue to maneuver international support in its favour, exercising her considerable international outreach. It is expected that the international community will continue to use their influence on both India and Pakistan in a manner that will promote their own interests and not the south Asian parties.