Twelve days after the Pulwama attack, the Indian Air Force (IAF) jets attacked the biggest Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) camp in Balakot in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.
Within hours of the attack, the Cabinet Committee on Security comprising of the Prime Minister, the defence minister, the home minister, external affairs minister and the finance minister met and tasked the foreign secretary to deliver India's first message.
"Credible intelligence was received that JeM was attempting another suicide terror attack in various parts of the country,” said foreign secretary Vijay Gokhale.
“The government of India is firmly and resolutely committed to taking all necessary measures to fight the menace of terrorism. Hence this non-military preemptive action was specifically targeted at the JeM camp. The selection of the target was also conditioned by our desire to avoid civilian casualties,” he told reporters at a press conference.
Gokhale left soon after delivering the crisp statement and did not take questions.
Look At The Words
It is important to note the choice of words used by the foreign secretary. Use of words like "intelligence-led", "non-military" and "pre-emptive" suggest India wanted to deliver a strong message to Pakistan and yet not sound provocative.
India emphasised that this was an act in self-defence to prevent further strikes and also the target was carefully chosen to avoid civilian casualties. It is also significant that the first official word on the strikes was delivered by India's top diplomats and not by the Army, Air Force or even a senior minister.
Sources said the decision to depute the foreign secretary to make a statement was taken in the meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Security. The choice of bureaucrat also indicates that India wanted to immediately convey a diplomatic message not just to Pakistan but to the larger international community.
Sources privy to the developments told CNBC-TV18 that the attack on JeM camp in Balakot is in a way a conclusion of the diplomatic campaign launched by India post the Pulwama attack. On February 14, a few hours after the Pulwama attack, the ministry of external affairs had said, "The government of India is firmly and resolutely committed to take all necessary measures to safeguard national security. We are equally resolved to fight against the menace of terrorism".
According to multiple people familiar with the development, Indian diplomats had been laying the groundwork for such a response. Immediately after the Pulwama attacks, Gokhale had met envoys of 25 countries including all permanent members of the UN Security Council to brief them about Pakistan's complicity in the attack on the CRPF convoy. India also lobbied hard at the UNSC for a strong statement naming JeM. More than 100 countries had condemned the attacks and consoled the loss of lives. Indian envoys abroad were also asked to brief top ministers.
On Tuesday after issuing a statement, the foreign secretary again met envoys of several countries to brief them about the cross-border counter-terror operation. A top diplomatic source told CNBC-TV18 that the foreign secretary emphasised on the need for this pre-emptive non-military strike.
Gokhale also told the envoys that this was a strike against the JeM and not a strike targeting civilians or Pakistani military installations, according to the source who did not want to named.Foreign minister Sushma Swaraj will also be briefing foreign ministers of China and Russia on the need for an IAF strike on JeM terror camps in Pakistan. The Pulwama attack and India's response will also be on Swaraj's agenda as she meets Foreign Ministers at the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation meeting in Abu Dhabi later this week.