As I pen this piece, there are tweets pouring in about the handing-over of Wing Commander Abhinandan Vardhman, at the Attari-Wagah border, and the ensuing paperwork. And as his mother and motherland await, with bated breath, the return of this brave hero, this cynosure of all eyes, a different perspective comes to mind. At the outset, and not to break my chain of thought, this fighter pilot is, to my mind, one of the most composed individuals I have ever seen, in the clutches of an enemy, whose ethics and indirect warfare tactics are best not mentioned. The imagery of his calm demeanor, whilst blood was streaming down the side of his face, sipping on a cuppa, and the firm reply “I am not supposed to tell you this”, have been etched in the recesses of my memory, for a long, long time to come.
What I really want to delve into, here, is the conflict of thought that has been hounding me for the past 72 hours. A different perspective. On the one hand, I am very proud. Proud that I was once a part of this glorious organization. Proud that we, as a nation, have come a long way, from being ‘non-aligned’, to testing and publicly declaring a firm nuclear status. From primarily being a ‘second-strike’ force to emerging as the new India, with the cinematized motto ‘Infiltrate and Kill’ (Naya Bharat, ghar mein ghusega bhi aur marega bhi!). The tactical bombing of strategically placed Jaish-e-Mohammed outfit hideouts, being hailed as Surgical Strike v 2.0, The Pulwama Pounding, and more eponyms on the same lines, was a major morale booster for anxious arm-soldiers all across the country. And a definitive victory. But the aftermath of this was the attempted retaliation from our neighbouring air space, which was met with greater grit and valour, in the form of a conventional dogfight from our side. The resultant of which was the slaying of at least one adversary pilot, an alleged spinal injury to the other, and the decimation of an F-16. And Wg Cdr Abhinandan being shot down. And captured. And ‘questioned’. In short, a spitting déjà-vu of the Flt Lt (now Gp Capt) Nachiketa saga, nearly two decades later. The major difference being the highly publicized and social-media-sensationalized release of our gallant flyer, with a track of, literally, each second that transpires in the said handing-over. Needless to say, our morale is soaring, and we are much more at peace (pun intended) now, than we were post LeT-coordinated-26/11, gauging purely from the social media outpouring, and my own personal opinion, which stems from the developments in the week gone by, and the reports thereof. We avenged Pathankot then, and Pulwama, now. The josh is, most definitely, high.
Let me come back to the conflict. The different viewpoint that I’ve been ruminating. The other hand, poetically speaking, is that this is too much of a déjà-vu. In terms of the fact, that we pitted an old steel horse, albeit with upgraded avionics and firepower, against a heavily modified stallion. Agreed, with equivocal fight capabilities, both 4th generation, all-inclusive. And it needs no technicality to understand the supreme dogfighting capabilities of IAF pilots, which they’ve proven, exercise after exercise, and time after time. The rigorous, world-class training that they undergo, is no secret, either. And thus, the bison was able to decimate and annihilate the falcon. But imagine how much more could have been done, with a superior machine in the same, proficient hands. And this fact disheartens me. The fact that we lack accountability from the higher (and highest) echelons in this situation, the ministerial key players and above. The simple fact that we deployed a Bison to engage and fight an F16, despite an operational go-ahead on the Rafales, a decade ago, and a tested flyworthy prototype of the LCA, eons prior to today. The fact that we are praying for Wg Cdr Abhinandan’s safe return, and for Pakistan to honour the Geneva Convention (which they shall, purely out of fear of the outcome of the negative). Furthermore, the fact that we do not resort to indirect and unconventional warfare, which has been mastered by world militaries, to fight terrorist outfits and nations harbouring and/or supporting terrorism. Warfare which was put to use by the United States to strategically target and dissolve the Al-Qaeda spearhead in 2011. And by Russians. And others, worldwide.
Do not get me wrong. I am exceedingly proud of our strike capability. And of the Indian Air Force, and the military, on the whole. And even our current administration. Which is so much more than we achieved under prior leadership(s), as I mentioned previously. But we could use some unconventional and indirect warfare strategies, (slightly) radical policy-making, (some) more technical prowess, some more firepower, and more of the exchequer’s money being directed, not only in principle, towards the military. And I also understand how bloody simple this is for me to write, sitting extremely comfortably in my study. And for this, I have only and only the armed forces to thank. I, for one, am truly indebted. So, while we wait with bated breath, for Wg Cdr Abhinandan to have a hot cup of chai, within the safe confines of his home, let us not lose sight of the lingering elephant in the room. And look inward. Lest we ‘win the battle, but not the war.’(King Pyrrhus of Epirus v/s The Romans @ Asculum, AD. 279)
नभः स्पर्शं दीप्तम
Disclaimer: The author has taken due precautions, and exercised due diligence, to not divulge any sensitive information or asset details, in the subtext, pictures, and opinion, including call signs and operational names, of man, machine and installations. And if so mentioned, the same has already been spoken of, in articles and news excerpts of high repute and following, not only social media portals.