In Conversation with Abhijit Iyer-Mitra the entire India-Pak episode thus far.

Conversation with Abhijit Iyer-Mitra on Connecting the dots on Pak's failed attempt at bombing a Military installation Wide-ranging subjects such as China's risk in Pak also discussed.

Transcribe can be read below:

Today’s discussion with Abhijit Iyer Mitra is going to be about India’s reaction to Pulwama massacre. Abhijit is a defense expert. He is going to share his perception of what has transpired and it is going to be very factual.

Sree Iyer – The attack on Balakot was a very thought out plan in the sense that some fighter aircraft headed towards Bahawalpur – JeM headquarters, some headed towards Lahore, some headed towards PoJK, and the action actually happened at Balakot. Pakistan really got caught unawares because they didn’t know what really India was up to. And the planes took off from the interiors of India and not from the border air stations. How do you make that? It was an intricately planned operation

Abhijit Iyer – Mitra – First we need to understand the plane that used which was Mirage 2000, most countries usually have a high-low combination of fighters because they afford all expensive fighters. They buy some expensive twinjet fighters and lots of single engine fighters like any taxi company will have a few BMWs, Mercedes and the rest of the vehicles will be Honda City/ Accord or Maruti Suzuki and likes… in American system they had money for two different fighters, the F-15 which is the high end and the F-16 which is the lower end that is the entry-level fighter. The French were very constrained for money so they went for only one fighter and that was the mirage. It is less than the F-15 but more than the F-16 even though it is a single engine fighter. So you have to understand that the against Mirage the most important fighter that Pakistan has in its arsenal is the American General Electric F-16. This has gone up against the Mirage 2000 several times especially between Greek Mirages and Turkish F-16s and every single time, the Mirage 2000 has shot down the F-16.

India had a very clear plan that they are going to use the best-known fighter in our arsenal in a record against their best fighter the f-16. There are two things that happened out here. One is several fences went inside the Pakistan border but they were not meant to hit things but to confuse radars and pretend that you were kind of hitting so for example classic diversion tactics. The second thing which is much more interesting is how these planes actually managed to jam their way which was very subtle that goes really deep into Pakistani territory. They actually went about 80-100 km unchallenged inside Pakistani territory dropped the bombs or several bombs (which we don’t know exactly) out there and they have already come back to Indian territory before Pakistani realized what had happened and sent their fighters over that area.

Now, why was that particular area chosen if you actually go back to wiki leaks this has been since the early 2000s, 2001 – 2002 and definitely since 2004 – that we know for a fact. This has been a concentration area for Jaish–e-Mohammad. there has been an unwritten rule that every time there is a flare-up between India and Pakistan over Kashmir the hostilities are restricted either to Pakistan occupied Kashmir or to Indian Kashmir.

And we broke that rule by going into Pakistan proper because the Balakot in question is in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa what used be called the northwest frontier province. It also has a very interesting history because the first guy on earth Syed Ahmed Shaheed Barelvi who tried to set up an Islamic state ala ISIS who was born coincidently in Rae Bareilly which was Mrs Sonia Gandhi and Indira Gandhi’s constituency was defeated by Maharaja Ranjit and decapitated. It was very a symbolic target, it is full of symbolism. The most important thing was the numbers that have been trained 300-350 people were killed. This is a very believable number and I will tell you why because this was in Pakistan proper and Pakistanis expected that no attack will ever come and they were living in the open as if this was the Ritz Carlton or Four Seasons or the Hilton for Jaish e Mohammad. And they were all concentrated in this area so it was the perfect target in terms of economics if you look at it one of the core diktats of the military operation is the economy of effort so was it worth going in there and risking expensive Mirage 2000s, and they thought, well 300 madcaps all concentrated in one area, 300 madcaps who were going to cause enormous economic damage to India if they ever managed to come in. Can we afford to loose a few Mirage 2000s? Yes, we can so let’s go in and bomb them.

And it was so precisely carried out that they were no civilian casualties, they were military casualties because having considered the jihadis to be the second wing of the Pakistan army, this is what Mirza Aslam Baig, the then chief of Pakistan army told Benazir Bhutto that madam for every one of this hundred lunatics we recruited it is like having an additional division of Pakistan army at no extra cost to the taxpayer. So very well thought out, extremely well planned, and the 14 days that we were sending intelligence aircraft up every single day to map the patrolling patterns of their aircraft and so on and so forth. Seeing when is the absolute optimal window of opportunity to do this. The thing is the planes do not take off on regular routines they take off very randomly just to confuse. The mathematics involved in planning all of that is very sophisticated. Also, the Pakistani f-16s are the latest generation are block -50 highly upgraded ones. These planes are sophisticated. These planes manage to overcome jamming, have superior electronic systems ingressed in them to carry out a perfect strike. Why haven’t we put out the videos of it – if you remember America after killing Osama bin Laden even though there was huge propaganda value in putting out the pictures of his body they wouldn’t do it because it is human decency, that if you have killed someone you don’t go parading around like isis or jihad sticking their head. We wouldn’t do that.

Sree Iyer – Those terrorists who were in the Pok withdrew thinking that there is an attack from India, do you think they took refuge/residence in Balakot?

Abhijit – That is highly likely because this was their strategic interior precisely because they expected attack only on Pok, they never expected to attack Pakistan itself. It is highly likely that they would have assets in Balakot itself. Which is why I said they concentrated a whole lot of jihadis in one place

Sree Iyer – So at least JeM got a significant setback but there are many other organizations doing the same thing like Let and many others. What happened the next day is that f-16 took off from Pakistan and they were headed towards India and how many actually came to India, can you actually walk us through that, as there is not much clarity on who engaged them, who shot down one of the f-16s, what happened to other f-16s?

Abhijit – What happened was this was attack package of 24 aircraft what mix of Chinese produced of JF 17s and America produced f-16s we don’t know exactly but basically it comprised of these two types of advanced aircraft. They were basically scouting for opportunities when will Indian air defense lower its guard that we can go in. And they did find their target of opportunity because 24 aircrafts amassing at one shot at one part of the border you never really can handle that kind of mass. So what really happened was they kept on flying to and fro the border and suddenly they saw an opportunity.
We have an exclusion zone 10kms in each side any military craft entering 10kms of the international border has to declare itself to Pakistani or Indian authority from whatever side. These guys did not declare themselves. They were flying 10km outside the exclusion zone. They saw the window of opportunity and came into Indian territory. The moment they started entering the 10km exclusion zone coming towards the loc Indian radars picked them up and diverted 4 pairs of attack aircraft. So what we are hearing is they were 2 Mirages, 2 MIG 29s, 2 MIG 21s, and 2 Sukhois. The MIG 21s were closest to the strike package.
When we talk about 24 aircraft, all 24 aircraft won’t come together, what will happen is f-16s will do a comeback sweep which is some aircraft carry air to ground bombs and some aircraft carry air to air bombs to sanitize airspace. F16s come to sanitize airspace, So happened was our aircraft engaged them, they basically scattered when they saw our aircraft and this very very brave young man Abhinandan Varthaman, he engaged a Pakistani aircraft and he shot them down and unfortunately, he was also targetted. This is particularly remarkable if you consider the fact that MIG 21 is 1960s aircraft and even though f-16 is 1970s vintage aircraft – only the exterior is from late 1970s, everything inside it is of the latest technology. This was 8 against 24 encounters. For every Indian aircraft, there were 3 times the Pakistani aircraft. Unfortunately, this entire thing takes place over Pakistani territory. And in such a close combat one cannot see Indian territory or Pakistani territory. What we do know is that one Pakistani plane with 2 pilots have been shot down and we have a visual confirmation of it.

Why we have visual confirmation of it is because we have seen the debris of wing commander Abhinandan’s plane and it seems to have come through a smooth landing. However, what we see in the video of Pakistani plane that was shot down as it exploded in high altitude and the debris was scattered over an extremely large area. The confirmation of this is the fact that the Director General of the inter-services public relations i.e, Pakistan’s military PR agency as well as PM Imran Khan said that “we have shot down 2 planes and 2 pilots have been captured and this is very significant because The first one they captured wing commander Abhinandan Varthaman who is hale and hearty except that those awful villagers beat him up and broke his nose and what not till the Pakistani military actually came and rescued him. The second one I personally believe they thought he was an Indian because he very very badly injured. If you look at the scale of the explosion in the air, it will very unlikely that the pilot would have survived if he would have been very badly charred. So the pilot wouldn’t have conscious enough to give to his identity to the villagers. The other identification which is the uniform was badly burnt. Which why the DGISPR announced that a second Indian pilot was hospitalized. He even announced the name in the hospital and it turns out that the second pilot – the Pakistani gentleman who was shot down is the son of an air marshall. So it turns out that the son of a retired Indian air marshall shot down the son of a serving Pakistani air marshall.

Sree Iyer – The person who got charred was flying the same f-16 that Abhinandan shot down?

Abhijit – No, this was another f-16. We don’t know what Abhinandan shot down, was it a JF 17 or an f-16? The plane that shot him down was certainly an f-16 because we have found the remains, the debris of American made AIM-120 Amraam missile which technically Pakistan should have never used because the Americans said that it will never be allowed to be used against India. We found that debris on our side of the border. So we know that he was shot down by an f-16 but we still don’t know what thing he shot down.

Sree Iyer – It gets more interesting, what is the serial number of that plane?

Abhijit – There is a lot of childish information going around about by determining serial numbers of the plane and playing detective. One of the pictures that I am seeing right now is of a piece of debris with number 70290 floating around written in a pen marking where the number 7 doesn’t even look like 7 and it has been deliberately botched up and they are trying to connect it with Jordanians f-16 episode. That doesn’t hold up to any kind of serious fact-checking because of the way it is broken up. It is clearly not an f-16. F-16 is constructed in 1960s Soviet technology so it is kind of clunky. That picture is clearly not f-16 it could be MIG 21 that wing commander Abhinandan was flying.

Sree Iyer – What about the second f-16? Have they located the debris of that one?

Abhijit – They haven’t been able to locate the debris of that. This is the unfortunate thing that the American weapons are not allowed to be used for aggression, you are allowed to use them only for self-defence. Now that everything happened in their territory, they will tell that Indians ingressed into Pakistani air space and they were acting purely in self-defence.

Sree Iyer – Let’s take the story forward. There were 24 aircraft. 2 f-16s got engaged, one got shot down, Abhinanadan’s MIG 21 got shot down, what happened after that?

Abhijit – What happened after that is the other aircraft carries the air to ground packages, the clearly trying to target brigade headquarters near Nowshera. They failed to target it so they pretty much dumped their bombs and ran back because they knew by that time alarm had been raised and more planes were probably coming in very shortly. So, all up it was very successful, we shot down one of them, we prevented major damage to brigade headquarters and we drove them back. When we counted all the planes returning to base we found one missing. Pakistan never publicized the fact that they also had one missing and that’s very significant. Because if you remember in 1999 during the Kargil war they lost so many soldiers. Nawaz Shariff actually said that Pakistan lost more soldiers during 1999 than they did during 1965 war. They never acknowledged that, and we had to give those guys burials, they won’t even acknowledge their bodies and them proper burials.

Sree Iyer – Tomorrow Abhinandan is coming back via Wagah border this is not the favour that Pakistan is doing to India. According to Geneva rules of engagement, they are expected to do this thing. So I am seeing some people quoting that Pakistan is behaving in a big-hearted way. I don’t see it that way, do you?

Abhijit – No, the first violation of Geneva convention was that the soldiers stood around and pleading the villagers to beating him up. They shouldn’t be pleading. They should have gone in there and prevented the beating right there. That was the first violation of Geneva convention – torture.

The second violation was that he was paraded around like a circus animal in front of cameras for PR purpose, which you are not allowed to do. They cannot be subjected to undue public curiosity because it is of humiliation.

The third is when he is captured, one of the villagers punches his face breaks his nose on camera and after that, his nose starts bleeding. There is a big X carved onto his forehead which was not there before he was captured, it happened when he was in custody. Three violations of Geneva conventions happened. At that time Pakistan had to save face because it looks bad when you have violated so many conventions and you have already announced.

You remember what happened to wing commander, two guys shot down in Kargil, One was Wing Commander – Nachiketa, they acknowledged and they gave the life proof but the 2nd gentleman who unfortunately died was wing commander Ahuja and we know for a fact that they tortured him to death. He lagged in bad conditions and these guys Mujahedin or whatever, I just call them Terrorist who got through him. For me the Pakistani Army itself who got through him tortured the poor man to death, he came back without his Eyes, limbs hecked off and what not and so on and so forth… They tortured him radically. I am just glad that seeing the fact even though it was the violation of the Geneva convention. Thank God, now that they have given the proof of life, they can’t kill him or do anything to him. So they really did not have any choice.

If you remember even with Wing Commander Nachiketa he was returned to us during the Kargil War because they did not have to do that, they could have wait till the end of the war. But due to a general rule, we returned to each other during the war itself. That’s what happened in this particular case.

Sree Iyer : Now, Lets look forward to what is happening inside Pakistan, the stock market has been tanking in last year and half, Pakistan Rupaya has lost 45% of its value and many people claim that Pakistan’s industry essentially an extension of their Army and their people who are retired go on to start company and there is a sort of that I scratch your back then you scratch my back and so on…. Why don’t you give us picture of how you see Pakistani Economy and where is it heading?

Abhijit: Serious thing about the Pakistani Economy is first of all look at its Defence budget its unusual extraordinary high percentage of GDP they spent on Defence. Now that seems particularly Bizarre, it seems unsustainable but the thing is probably somewhere between 70 to 90% of the white economy is run by the Pakistani Military through the Fauji Foundation. If you read the Ayesha Siddiqa’s book Military Inc, she comes up with the number 70 to 90% where all the industry in that country is military patronage. Effectively defence budget of the country is effectively he subsidy to the Military industry in addition to purchases and all that.

Now where the problem here that plus, of course, it is an informal economy, remember the source of strength for both India and Pakistan very frequently. Yes, it also allows the crime and all to happen because we all know that Black Money is quenchable. One kind of criminality leads to another kind of criminality, so I have a huge problem with black informal – We have to be very specific with these terms. Pakistan is a huge informal economy and what happens is a problem that came about, the informal economy acts as an edge against the financial collapse. What happened here was, unfortunately, was a secret because China decided that it is going to pump between 60 to 90 billion dollars into Pakistan. You remember Japanese property investment in that 80s into Hawaii. ]
This was something like that because they really didn’t work cost-benefit analysis. They should get Gwadar for example, Gwadar port doesn’t make any kind of economic sense because today a port needs to make hinterland for at least 30 Million dollars for any ship worth its name to dock there otherwise fuel prices are too high to make any route diversion to come there, which is why you have to make up ports gaining attraction right now, Small ports are disappearing completely.
Much in the way you see Aircraft, for example, you see Medium size airliner take over the entire thing and the reached in marketer airliner is take off. So it is kind of similar phenomena. Now Gwadar doesn’t make any sense because economic hinterland of entire Pakistan is about 90 odd billion dollars at most if you look at the formal economy. Karachi one port is more than enough.
Second, What exactly China planning to take via Pakistan, Fuel, every 400 Kms of travel required to the amount of fuel is more than the amount of fuel that can be carried. If you look at cross pipeline going through the thing when you are on the higher altitude the water boils at 60 degree Celsius, at high miles, so fuel catches fire at that time. So fuel pipe has to be pressurized to prevent it from catching fire and so on and so forth. See it is not as easy as James Bond movies make it seems like; you just build the pipeline just like sipping lemon ice-cream soda. No, It is a highly complex scenario and the cost simply doesn’t justify very stupid investments.

The Pakistanis believe and now what they see coming from Chinese literature coming up from China is that there is a huge amount of frustration is that none of the projects are going at the speed they should be going at. Because remember in India there is one good thing, whether you like it or not, it is a mixed batch. Nehru did this whole land redistribution nonsense. it kind off broken of two monopolies, Pakistan is a monopoly who never broke. So every big landowner, whose land these pipeline and road have to pass through is effectively is the fruden lord who is using his private army who is terrorizing the Chinese armies to extort money, so none of those infrastructure projects are going anywhere. So this is the classic property boom where you promise to deliver houses an what not what not but you couldn’t deliver it and the market is going bust… That’s the economic background of what we see so far. This is where Pulwama makes sense this is to divert away from the Pakistani internal economy as well. The intent was to create some kind of bubble When your economy is tanking you create a military diversion.

Sree Iyer: I agree, that has been happening for a while now, it is not like from yesterday they are falling, their Rupee has been falling from a long time… Now, in spite of what Pakistan has, they have also been having trouble because of extracting resources from Baluchistan and there is a sense of Aleez happening there, why don’t you walk us through a little bit about Pakistan involvement with Baluchistan area?

Abhijit: The History of Baluchistan is very complicated, they have never really seen as part of Pakistan, aesthetically they have been very different. And of course, the Pakistans whole and that’s why Bangladesh need to homogenize. They can’t deal with differences.
With Baluchistan, its pretty much been like think of this analogy think Bihar and Jharkhand two extremely mineral-rich states for a long time and probably they are still Bimaru state, because of low human development and disease due to extraction and extraction…. No replenishment of profits into human development out there. So Baluchistan pretty much flared up. The problem with Baluchistan is they never really stood a chance. Because for rebellion like that to be successful, you need a land bridge or something else.
Here it is contagious to Pakistan but where is contagious to external sources or support. This is also unfortunately where BJP screwed up, because in the last govt. the decision that was taken after 26/11 when Chidambaram said “We cannot get the exact desirable we want, so what we are going to doing throw money at the Baluchis and you let Pakistan burn and Chidambaram was funding a huge amount of money to Baluchis and basically the instruction get Baluchistan to burn and it went ahead very well. I could see all my Baluchi friends in Canada and the UK overnight driving in BMW and Rolls Royce & Whatnot. Probably stipend out 70-80% of the money but the remaining 20% of the money use to burn Baluchistan.

That’s some reason stuck moment BJP came to power in 2014 and lot of Baluchis came up to me and asked guys what happened, We had an agreement this is not taken over in a huge way, why have you stucked all of us. I don’t have a satisfactory answer for this is what done… I am hoping it wasn’t any misguidance or whatever… But unfortunately, the problem is that it is not pleasant to say but we used the Baluchis and we dumped them. We have a long the history of this, I K Gujral did this, Moraraji Desai also did this…. Somehow goodwill involves losing in Pakistan. Giving away Tangible assets in view of intangible peace is never a good idea.

Sree Iyer: Yes, we have this kind of problem with govt. when the govt. changes., somebody needs to take a look at it to stay behind this and tell them as to why should they tinker this and tell them about there may be something good emanated out of that. Now the next step for India what do you think is going to happen leading up to the election that is where is going to be a front burner?
There is this very carefully crafted campaign, a very mischievous Hashtag campaign #BringBackAbhinandan. He is a soldier, he knows what he is doing, he is trained to do these things, and he knows what he was getting into. He was actually prepared for a lot worse than what happened and the fall equivalence he made is peace depends on bringing Abhinandan back. NO, the bargain is peace we give Pakistan in return of terror stopping NOT in return of commander Abhinandan.
Unfortunately, what’s happening is Pakistani have created a whole impression that Thanks to News media from our side of the border that its Abhinandan for peace. That isn’t the way it is seen in Delhi at all, the formulation has been outright rejected by New Delhi. So I don’t think people have picked on it…
Now, that means Pakistan is been given some time to do a crackdown on the zoo of terrorists that is been cultivated failing which I suspect there might be another few strikes and escalations all over again.
That said, we have to understand that this is one point have raised this earlier and postpone it towards the end, is how Pakistan Bruce these terrorists – all these terrorist come from different school, Jaish-e-Mohammed is one, Hafeez Saeed is another one, Lashkar-e-Taiba is another one. They cultivate selective lucrative from each other these school of Islam and they say we are subsidizing Lunacy of you all. For example, it is saying – Going to a madhouse and saying we will be serial rapist subsidy, serial killer subsidy and serial dacoit subsidy and so on….
One is salafee, one is hanafsee, One is Devri, one is devbandi and So on and so forth.
They also play Divide and Rule, mix and match; it is a very well sort-out Strategy. of course we haven’t counted on these people who have set their own house on fire, because cause more damage to Pakistan than India or Afganistan.
Unfortunately, the problem with Military state, it never looks for well being of its people. For the normal state, it is the people are the greatest asset and people’s economy is the most important goal. In Pakistan, they don’t even know what economics means, it all about strategic depth and distance. Tomorrow if General decides to paint his red Ferrari – Green then they would call it as Strategic foresight. They love these words but they don’t understand the meaning of.

Sree Iyer: China’s investment involvement Sea belt, from what I have read, Pakistan is going have difficulty in paying the interest alone, leave out the principal amount and some of the borrowings against that, what do you think China is thinking now?

Abhijit: Look what I think, China is thinking now, you look at it’s the entire plan belt, but one belt one road initiative, which is called OBOR. There is not one component of that I have seen will economically sustain.
Every time we go to Beijing, we ask them could you show us Cost-benefit analysis, because for these kinds of investments if you go to any infrastructural development Bank World Bank, they require for cost-benefit analysis, there is none for this.

Visual thinking is not cost-benefit analysis, economics, not even accounting, we have not seen any kind of returns plan. What we suspect is because China has reached middle-income track, they don’t see avenues of growth, so they are using their enormous surplus to create bubbles which may last for about 15—20 years or max for 30 years, but after 15-20years it is going to collapse like soviet union where the surpluses of post-industrialization can only last about so much. And then you refuse to transform into digital and information age.

Now, remember, industrialization requires strong states but digital and information age requires a state to take back seat and weaken itself a bit because it fundamentally democratizes and this why you see things in the 80s some really nasty dictatorship like South Korean and Taiwan and to a lesser extent Singapore are democratizing that co-insides with the digital age.

With China, that is why they are struck up with the 10-12 per capita income gap they have adopted all the external assemblance of the digital age, it is like Saudi Arabia you can have these multistory building, posh malls, and beautiful cars but doesn’t mean you have industrialized. You have not realized that women are a critical element of the workforce in industry and all of it comes because of industrialization. They don’t realize that. It is a creation of an artificial bubble, its mass dilution on large scale.

Sree Iyer: The very first Hangout with Abhijit has been a real eye opener, I am sure a lot of viewers did not know about the 24 planes that took off from Pakistan and lot of other information. Thank you much for taking out time.



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