Whether the release and return of Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman has pre-empted the possibility of a military action against Pakistan is still an evolving situation, but the Twitter trend #BringBackAbhinandan was almost a throwback to media scenes of 1999 and the IC814 hijack. The playout on television sets then, of emotions of the relatives of the hostages by a fledgling private media, created a mood for compromise in the Nation, contributing to the then government’s capitulation before the hijackers with serious consequences for national security.
Now, like then, we have seen an attempt being made – with an added social media element – of sentimentalising the captivity of the young fighter pilot, and to use it to bat for a ‘de-escalation’ with Pakistan. While each life is precious and should be accounted for by the State, a war is typically fought under a different set of rules, one of which is sacrifice by some to secure the rest of the society. By all accounts of the Indian Air Force (IAF) engagement with the Pakistanis on February 26, the story of Wing Commander Abhinandan is one of exemplary bravery and patriotism, where he staked his life and limb in the line of duty.
He is a soldier. As part of the defence forces, he represents the sword of the nation, the fighting arm of the society. It's part of his job go out and face the enemy to shield the sovereignty of the country. He has trained all his life for that moment when he faced the Pakistani mob and soldiers across the Line of control (LoC). Also, Indian defence services are a volunteer force, where everyone joins of their free will, unlike a conscription army where many are participating as part of a mandate and not necessarily because they want to face the enemy. There is a reason why every nation provides for garrison towns and cantonments in order to shield their forces from a general civilian sentimentality.
Wing Commander Abhinandan’s return is no favour by Pakistan. The incorrigible terror sponsor is making a virtue out of necessity, given the international pressure it faced even from known supporters like China and Saudi Arabia. There is tremendous amount of diplomatic offensive that has gone into it, and the Government of India has carried itself with extreme composure given the provocation. Had it not been for the stroke of ill luck that landed Abhinandan’s parachute just a few kilometres across the LoC, purely from a military objective India would have liked to build on the momentum from February 25 airstrike to engineer a more controlled regional security environment in our neighbourhood.
There have been many triggers earlier with Pakistan, from Pathankot in recent past to 26/11 and the Parliament terror attack. Every time the predominant thought of pacifism has prevailed. It might prevail this time too. But if the surgical strikes of September 2016 and the February 25 airstrike are any indication, then the strategic thinking may be making a paradigm shift from a purely defensive posture to an offensive-defence one. An idea whose time has come I would say.