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February 18, 2020

Former Indian air chief on defensive one year after Balakot

National

February 18, 2020

Ex-IAF chief BS Dhanoa, who had supervised the Balakot attacks in 2019, was in the Indian media in a big way recently. This time, one year after the failed Balakot attacks, he is apparently trying to salvage the pride of his service which had been battered in the above attack and Pakistan’s reaction the next day.

He claimed “the measure of military victory is whether the political objective of the mission has been achieved, which was definitely the case in Balakot.” If the political objective was to elect Modi once again as prime minister of India, that was certainly achieved but at what cost?

He further said that “similar attacks would take place on cross-border terrorists if they attempted to repeat attacks that took place on Pulwama.” How can so-called terrorists cross the LoC when India have 900,000 troops in the valley, ‘Berlin wall’ fortified fences at LoC and has turned it into the biggest prison in the world?

Then Dhanoa goes on to admit: “We hit the target with five stand-off weapons. However, the information on the target taking the hit reached late as the weapons for video recording the feat had failed.

Moreover, the satellite pass at 8.30am could not pick up much because of the cloud cover.” What other equipment failed in the operation, he does not reveal.

Dhanoa also claimed three buildings were hit and one was spared on purpose, and this was captured by a special-purpose camera that showed the roofs of the Balakot buildings having been penetrated. “The weapon used for the strike was designed in such a way that the buildings survive but the occupants don’t,” said Dhanoa. What a lame excuse? What kind of weapon is that? Did it have a chemical or biological warhead?

Dhanoa has the cheek to say: “The fact is that the terror camp was hit with a lot of casualties, which the Pakistanis were hiding.” Almost one year has gone by the incident but there has been no report in the Pakistani media or the world media about the hundreds of casualties he is boasting. How such a large number of casualties were hidden from the public remains a question that only he can answer.

The former Indian air chief says, “Pakistan’s military response the day after Balakot was against Indian military targets, though we had hit a non-military target at Markaz Syed Ahmad Shaheed in Balakot.” What did he think it was? A game on chessboard that Pakistan would play by the book? Then he says “PAF had a clear-cut intent to attack, but we thwarted the move. We were prepared for retaliation. We expected them to attack. IAF along with the navy and the army were prepared for an all-out escalation.” What a contradiction!

He says that “we lost a MiG-21, but Pakistan lost an F-16 that we cannot prove. Technically, we have information beyond doubt that two aircraft fell in that area on February 27, 2019. One aircraft belongs to us, second aircraft we are saying is an F-16 on basis of evidence from our electronic sensors.” So the Pentagon, the world media and world experts have all been lying all along that Pakistan did not lose any aircraft.

Dhanoa states: “The fact is, if we show you the full video, do you want us to expose our technical capability, given there are gaps due to mountainous terrain, or our ability to intercept their secure communication — all this just to win brownie points in the media?” What nonsense, one can only say. The ex-Indian air chief says “our air defence responded well.” It did, shooting down an IAF copter and killing all on board.

Then comes the crux of the talk: “We were prepared with two upgraded Mirage 2000s, two SU-30 MKIs and six Bisons got airborne from Srinagar. If we had signed the contract in time, it would have been six Rafales. All the PAF aircraft, including F-16s would have been scurrying for cover against Rafales. In beyond visual range combat, it is basically your situational awareness which wins you the day. Your ability to look first and shoot first. This is where Rafale comes first.” So the ex-IAF chief admits they could have done much better if they Rafales. Finally, he says: “With the induction of the S-400 missile system and the Rafales, we will be in position to effect a behavioural change within the Pakistan establishment. If we had these two platforms or only Rafale with us on February 27, and we had shot down four or five of their aircraft, the behavioural change would have taken place immediately.” In what world is Dhanoa living in? Does he think that there would be no counter measures taken by Pakistan for the S-400s or firing of stand-off weapons or Pakistan would stop supporting the Kashmiris diplomatically, morally and politically after India acquires two new weapon systems? Would Pakistan not respond in any measure to Indian provocations?

Why was the IAF’s Western theatre head removed after February 27? To quote Indian analysts Alex Phillips: "The IAF was mechanically outgunned by Pakistan with its superior fighters, missiles and the airborne early warning and control systems” in the aftermath of Balakot attack.

If the Pakistani establishment concludes after Dhanoa’s interview that he may joining the BJP in some capacity in future, it may not be very much off the mark.