National and International Issues

Truth Prevails: India’s Lies Exposed

This was one of the most embarrassing moments for Indian diplomacy and military in decades. A careful review of the timeline of events indicates the world gradually joined Pakistan in discrediting all the key claims made by India on the events that followed its February 26 violation of Pakistan’s airspace. Nearly three months later, Indian officials are looking at a major diplomatic and military faux pas.
Even those handful of international officials that shyly defended the Indian incursion as an ‘act of self-defence’ apparently reneged and opted for complete silence as India tottered under the weight of one embarrassing revelation after another on its military performance in a limited military contact with a smaller neighbor.



The crisis, on the other hand, emerges as a shining moment for Pakistan’s military and diplomacy. Pakistan, six-and-a-half times smaller than India, conducted itself responsibly, confirmed its conventional capability, and thwarted New Delhi’s attempt to disrupt regional balance of power. More interestingly, Pakistan’s defensive action has put into doubt twenty-five years of India’s carefully crafted narrative as an emerging power capable of assuming enhanced military roles in the Pacific region.    
In a series of revelations after the botched February 26 Indian incursion into Pakistan, officials in the United States, and experts in Europe and Australia deflated Indian claims of precision targeting of a site inside Pakistan, in addition to debunking claims of massive Pakistani casualties, and the downing of a Pakistani F-16 jet. Even the terror attack in Pulwama (in Indian Occupied Kashmir) which India blamed on Pakistan, turned out to be an internal Kashmiri act with no link to Pakistan, involving local explosives and individuals known to Indian officials from past arrests.   
As if all this was not enough embarrassment, the entire episode led to domestic and international critique of Indian armed forces as a ‘vintage’ military, it has emboldened critics of Indian government’s  misinformation policy, and it exposed an insecure and irresponsible Indian political system that toys with a nuclear war as an election gimmick, and, lastlty, it puts the warmongering Indian media in the spotlight.
Seizing the Initiative
We must admit that India did surprise Pakistan and the world. No one in the world expected India to be reckless in taking a chance with a nuclear-armed neighbor. For several years now, Indian officials have been in the habit of casually talking about allegedly  carrying out air strikes across international borders, without ever furnishing any evidence. India claims to have conducted two ‘surgical strikes’ into Myanmar and Pakistan. Both Myanmar and Pakistan have denied seeing any evidence of Indian incursions. Interestingly, India is the only country in the world where the term ‘surgical strike’ has become a nationalist rallying cry to be proud of, like a tourist attraction or a scientific achievement. Indian film producers routinely release triumphant films depicting Indian superheroes crossing into Pakistan to battle and defeat its military. Little wonder then that India’s neighbors and the international community largely ignored past Indian claims of ‘surgical strikes’.


On March 6, the Reuters wire service reviewed the highest-resolution images of the impact site and concluded that six buildings of a religious school where India claimed a terrorist camp existed were still standing days after the raid, and nothing changed in the buildings since an older image dating back to April 2018.


Going by this past record, not many took official Indian statements seriously after the February 14 Pulwama attack, when Indian officials gloated about plans to strike inside Pakistan.
So India did manage to sneak in Pakistan. But here is where India’s streak of good luck ended, and it all went downhill from here. 
Once the Indian fighter jets crossed into Pakistan in the dark in the early hours of February 26, Pakistan surprised India and the world by seizing and shaping the narrative of what was happening and how this limited conflict would evolve over the next three days. This feat of Pakistan was accomplished starting with a single tweet by Major General Asif Ghafoor, Director-General of Inter-Services Public Relations (DG ISPR), the official spokesman of Pakistani military. 
The Pakistan military spokesman became the only timely and credible source of information on the conflict for all media and public including Indian. After his first tweet revealing the Indian incursion and escape, he followed up with specific details, like Indian jets releasing bombs in haste and hitting trees. He backed it up with pictures of the impact site. The Pakistan military’s media strategy earned more credibility inside Pakistan, in India and internationally on the following day, February 27, when it promptly released details of retaliation by Pakistan, including the downing of Indian fighter jets and the capture of one Indian pilot. 
This transparency by the Pakistan military was in sharp contrast to the jaundiced, limited and reluctant Indian official responses. For example, on the morning of February 27, as news spread in India of a Pakistani raid, the downing of Indian jets and the capture of pilots, ‘defence sources’ told Press Trust of India, the country’s premier wire service, that the story was false and that all pilots and jets were accounted for. Moments later, Pakistan released pictures of a downed Indian jet and the captured pilot, shattering whatever little credibility was left for New Delhi in the eyes of the public.
Indian Confusion
A look at how India responded to Pakistan’s full media transparency on the limited military conflict on February 26, 27, and 28 shows that New Delhi was probably trying to imitate either American, NATO, or Israeli counterterror operation style seen in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, where results speak for themselves instead of official announcements. But as with many other things, New Delhi made the wrong calculation, forgetting that India is not Israel or NATO, and Pakistan is not one of those target examples.
Starting from the first day, India had no intention to speak on its strike into Pakistan but the timely and accurate release of information by Pakistan built up domestic and international pressure on the Indian government and forced it to speak, with one briefing nearly eight hours after the Indian strike, by Indian Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale. This was followed by silence again for almost two days and then a joint press briefing by the Indian Army, Navy and Air Force that revealed very little and left Indian journalists visibly exasperated at official Indian silence compared to Pakistan’s transparent approach, complete with details and pictures, including the impressive video message of Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman, well-dressed and taken care of, sipping tea, and praising Pakistani soldiers. 
This winning transparency by Pakistan military was augmented by a political masterstroke by Prime Minister Imran Khan who addressed Parliament of Pakistan in a live broadcast, announcing his intention to release the captured Indian pilot as a goodwill gesture. With these military and diplomatic moves after the botched Indian air strike, Pakistan established its credibility as a conventional military power to be reckoned with without even crossing the nuclear threshold, or “calling Pakistan’s nuclear bluff,” as Indian experts suggested days earlier. Islamabad successfully seized and shaped the media narrative  from start to finish. 
The military and political transparency showed the world that Pakistan had nothing to hide, that it could defend itself, attack India in retaliation, and take instant bold decisions for peace when necessary. 
By the end of the limited conflict, it was not hard to see which country acted with responsibility and grace, and which one misled its own public opinion and the world. 
Setbacks and Deception
The record on India’s official disinformation  practices meant to mislead its own people and the world on what happened on February 26 and 27, 2019 is strong and undeniable and brings into question India’s foreign policy conduct and its ability to responsibly conduct war. 
These points are on the record and defy India’s strenuous attempts to mislead the Indian public opinion on the military and diplomatic embarrassments after February 26: 
1. Four Missile Heads: A single tweet torpedoed the entire story of India shooting down a Pakistani F-16. DG ISPR tweeted on April 5 a picture of four missile-seeker heads of the MiG-21 piloted by Wing Commander Abhinandan, which were recovered intact by the Pakistan military. India claimed its pilot hit an F-16 before being downed and captured. Pakistan has displayed the four seeker heads intact, rendering the Indian story false.


Did India Shoot Down a Pakistani Jet? U.S. Count Says No: This report probably constituted the biggest diplomatic embarrassment for India internationally and a political disaster domestically. The U.S.-based Foreign Policy magazine quoted American government officials who confirmed India had not shot down any Pakistani F-16. 


2. Alleged Training Camp at Balakot: Indian Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale appeared before the Indian media just before midday on February 26 to claim that “India struck the biggest training camp of Jaish-e-Muhammad (JeM) group in Balakot” and that his country had “credible intelligence” the group was “attempting another suicide attack in different parts” of India. He failed to offer any evidence in this briefing and later to major world powers that intervened behind the scenes to avert a war. Gokhale was visibly nervous. It was obvious he was forced to deal with questions that the Modi government and the Indian military did not have any answers for the number of casualties, the exact target, and on counterevidence presented by Pakistan showing that Indian bombs hit trees.
3. Misleading Statements by Indian Foreign Secretary and Air Chief: On April 10, DG ISPR tweeted a video of ambassadors, defense attachés accredited in Pakistan, and a group of India-based journalists, mostly stationed in New Delhi, who were escorted by the Pakistan military to the impact site of the botched Indian raid. The visitors examined the site where Indian bombs fell and visited a nearby religious madrassa, a school and other facilities in the area. Journalists from India found that the ground realities contradicted Indian Foreign Secretary Gokhale’s claim that “the biggest training camp” was hit here. Pakistani and international media had already been closely monitoring for any reports of casualties received by hospitals and clinics in the area  nearby because the Indian claim of eliminating 200 to 400 fighters would have been difficult to hide. However, no building structure was hit in the area by Indian bombs, and hence, there were no casualties. These facts also discredit the Indian Air Chief who, on March 4, claimed the target was hit, “killing a large number of terrorists.” The Indian Air Chief Marshal B. S. Dhanoa remarked, “If we plan to hit the target, we hit the target.” He refused to say how many militants were killed, insisting it was not the job of Indian Air Force to count bodies. The Indian Air Chief shifted the responsibility to Indian government to confirm the number of people killed.
4. International Media Accepts Pakistan’s Evidence, Dismisses Indian Claims: On February 28, as Pakistan readied to release the captured Indian pilot, a line in a report in the New York Times showed how much Indian officials had lost credibility as a source of information for the international media. “[…] it is not clear what [Indian bombs] hit [but] Pakistan shot down at least one Indian fighter jet,” wrote the authors of the newspaper report as they dismissed Indian claims while accepting Pakistan’s version.
5. India’s Military Requires more Practice: This was the advice by authors of a situation report at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) whose experts investigated the Indian strike and wrote a stinging review, saying Indian military needs more “practice” and that “[s]imply buying precision munitions off the shelf is not enough.” Indian jets used the Israeli SPICE 2000 device to target the site at Balakot. ASPI’s experts concluded that satellite imagery from European Space Imaging, taken a day after the raid, “are not consistent with either a SPICE 2000 strike or a strike with other munitions. We believe that even a weapon with reduced explosive fill would cause damage to buildings that would be identifiable in the satellite imagery.”
6. Nevermind Balakot, IAF is Worse off than Pakistan Air Force on Pilot Strength: This is the exact headline of a critique of Indian Air Force published on May 7 in The Print, an Indian news portal. The dogfight over Kashmir has helped India identify serious military issues that were otherwise never discussed under the impression that India somehow is ready to handle enhanced security roles in the Pacific and on China without the need to check India’s actual preparedness. Here is an excerpt:
“[T]his implies that PAF can carry out day and night operations more efficiently than the IAF in case of a full-scale war. The reason behind this is that aircraft can be made to carry out even six sorties a day, but the pilots have to deal with the limits of human endurance. The IAF also depends a lot on simulation instead of preferred actual bombing practice. The all-important Western Air Command, which looks after the entire air space with Pakistan and parts of China, does not have a single firing range to drop larger caliber bombs.”
7. After India Loses Dogfight to Pakistan, Questions Arise about its ‘Vintage’ Military: With this headline, The New York Times published a searing critique of India’s aging hardware arsenal. 
8. Reuters Disputes India’s Official Version on Balakot Raid: On March 6, the Reuters wire service reviewed the highest-resolution images of the impact site and concluded that six buildings of a religious school where India claimed a terrorist camp existed were still standing days after the raid, and nothing changed in the buildings since an older image dating back to April 2018. 
This is how Reuters concluded its review of the before-and-after satellite images:


The Pakistan-India dogfight over Kashmir skies has dented Indian and international confidence in the ability of New Delhi and the Indian Armed Forces to conduct war. The excessive reliance on the ‘Bollywood effect’ in conducting war (the use of propaganda to claim victory instead of really achieving victory) is a disturbing new development in India. Indian lies have been exposed to the world by international credible media. 


“The image is virtually unchanged from an April 2018 satellite photo of the facility. There are no discernible holes in the roofs of buildings, no signs of scorching, blown-out walls, displaced trees around the madrasa or other signs of an aerial attack. The images cast further doubt on statements made over the last eight days by the Indian government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi that the raids, early on February 26, had hit all the intended targets.”
9. The Indian Air Force (IAF) conducted an interview review of its poor performance in front of Pakistan and released a report on April 25, roughly two months after the debacle. It was a disappointing report that did not acknowledge the serious issues facing the IAF and the Indian military as whole. The report acknowledged that Pakistan Air Force (PAF) “consistently enhanced its air defense and offensive capabilities since 1999” but added that IAF could have “inflicted heavy damage” on Pakistan had there been “technological asymmetry,” which is military jargon for saying, ‘We could’ve defeated Pakistan had we had better equipment.’ But fact of the matter is, independent reviews of Indian military weaknesses in front of Pakistan list more serious concerns. Anyone wanting to review IAF and Indian military preparedness opposite Pakistan should read a The New York Times report After India Loses Dogfight to Pakistan, Questions Arise About Its ‘Vintage’ Military, and the Indian The Print’s Never Mind Balakot, IAF’s Worse Off than Pakistan Air Force on Pilot Strength.
10. India’s Media is War-Crazy: The Foreign Policy magazine ran this story a few days after the limited confrontation over Kashmir. Pakistan had long complained about Indian media promoting hate and war, but the latest escalation made the whole world watch Indian media and the world was aghast. In India, “journalism is taking a backseat to jingoism,” said the article. One of the darkest sides of Indian democracy lies open now in front of the world.
11. Did India Shoot Down a Pakistani Jet? U.S. Count Says No: This report probably constituted the biggest diplomatic embarrassment for India internationally and a political disaster domestically. The U.S.-based Foreign Policy magazine quoted American government officials who confirmed India had not shot down any Pakistani F-16. This shocking exclusive story angered New Delhi to no end and created a rare moment of Pakistani-American agreement on something involving India, after a long time (at least not since President Nixon and his NSA Henry Kissinger said those famous things about the Indians and Indira Gandhi, then Indian prime minister.) Many American news outlets reported this story with the variations of the title, ‘Washington shoots down India’s F-16 kill claim.’
12. Pulwama Attack had no Link to Pakistan: This crucial part of the story was eclipsed by the dogfight over Kashmir. India violated international law and conducted a botched raid inside Pakistan in ‘self-defense’ over the Pulwama terror attack. But Indian media reporting later concluded that all actors involved in the attack were local disgruntled Kashmiris who sourced the explosives used in the attack from local sources. And this is probably why there will always remain a potential for future conflict between Pakistan and India without conclusive peace talks to resolve Kashmir dispute in accordance with UN Security Council resolutions and the wishes of the Kashmiri people.
The Pakistan-India dogfight over Kashmir skies has dented Indian and international confidence in the ability of New Delhi and the Indian Armed Forces to conduct war. The excessive reliance on the ‘Bollywood effect’ in conducting war (the use of propaganda to claim victory instead of really achieving victory) is a disturbing new development in India. Indian lies have been exposed to the world by international credible media. 
The idea of surprise attack on targets deep inside Pakistan has fascinated New Delhi for many years, if not decades. But this is not how India expected things would end: in an international embarrassment. Having exhausted the last option to contain Pakistan, it is time for Indian leaders to change strategy. As a large country, New Delhi needs to act its size, and act responsibly. India should develop an inclusive regional vision, resolve conflicts peacefully, give the necessary concessions as a big power that can afford to do so for regionwide prosperity. And it needs to leave the past behind.
This is what Pakistan has always wanted from its larger neighbor to east, an inclusive vision for prosperity for everyone and a relationship based on mutual respect and conflict resolution with sincerity and goodwill. Is this too much to ask of India? Let’s hope it is not.


The writer is a senior research fellow at Project Pakistan 21, an independent research group and Executive Director at YFK International Kashmir Lobby Group.
E-mail: [email protected]
 

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