Indian (Mis) Leadership in Balakot Crisis

Author Name: Abdullah Rehman Butt       28 Feb 2020     Defense

Leadership can be defined as “the process of influencing others to accomplish the mission by providing purpose, direction, and motivation.” In the contemporary world, the changing dynamics, volatility, unpredictability, complexity, and uncertainty in warfare stipulate versatile, adaptable and situational styles of national leadership-including both civil and military. Moreover, with the advent of nuclear weapons and other non-traditional capabilities, military leadership has become as relevant in maintaining peace as it is in fighting wars.
The Balakot crisis set a new precedent vis-à-vis the concept of low-intensity conflict in South Asia. Because of the aerial engagements between Pakistan Air Force (PAF) and Indian Air Force (IAF), this crisis will be remembered as an air-battle between the two countries. The air duels not only tested the nerves of both the nations in a tough war-like situation but also tested the quality of national leadership especially military leaderships of India and Pakistan. The analysis of the national leadership of both India and Pakistan in the Balakot crisis will show that how Indian national leadership contributed to the crisis escalation, while on the other hand, the role of Pakistan’s national leadership was mature, responsible and an effort towards de-escalation.
To examine the quality of leadership of both India and Pakistan in Balakot crisis, one of the best approaches, used as a norm, is to examine the traits of the leadership in the crisis. As General G. H. Decker, former US Chief of Army Staff, states, “Military leadership is not inherent; it depends upon traits that can be developed and upon the application of principles and techniques that can be learned.” Woefully, the leadership of the Indian Air Force (IAF) miserably failed to display fundamental traits of leadership in the recent crisis.
The case study of the Balakot crisis was unique because, for the first time, the air force was used by India to achieve political objectives. Moreover, India used its air option in retaliation to a sub-conventional false flag attack that had happened in Pulwama, and the Indian fighter jets violated the international border for the first time since 1971. Because of the timely response by PAF, Indian jets retreated hastily by dropping their weapons far away from their intended targets.
Knowingly that in the era of satellite services and social media, it is impossible to hide the truth, the foreign secretary of India, Vijay Gokhale, made a blatantly false claim in a press briefing on 26 February 2019 that the Indian airstrike had resulted in massive casualties and destroyed the so-called terror facility. However, and Australia based think tank “International Cyber Policy Centre” exposed Indian lies and released satellite images that revealed no damage done to that facility. As the first and foremost trait of leadership is integrity, and in this case, the disclosure by the Australian think tank clearly indicates the lack of integrity in Indian leadership. Further contrariety to truth was shown by baffled Indian military leadership in a press conference held on 28 February 2019. Answering a question about the credibility of the claims made after Indian strike in Pakistan, Indian Assistant Chief of Air Staff Operations, Air Vice Marshal R G K Kapoor deliberately concealed the facts and stated, “It was up to the political leadership to decide when and how to release evidence of the Balakot strike’s success.” It has been a year since this statement was given, still, neither any evidence was provided by the Indian leadership nor by the Indian Air Force. How could they, because these Indian lies never had legs to stand upon.
Another fundamental trait of leadership is planning ability. Effective planning for a mission can be done by calculating the adversary’s capabilities, possible response and other potential risks associated with the mission. However, the failed Indian strike at Balakot portrays the poor planning ability of IAF leadership. Neither the weapons were properly programmed nor did they hit the intended targets. It depicts a lack of professionalism in IAF at both strategic and operational levels of command. Secondly, the Indian leadership miscalculated the capability of PAF and its will to respond to any aggression Pakistan. Therefore, after the PAF’s response on 27 February 2019, Indian Assistant Chief of Air Staff Operations made another false claim, of shooting down an F-16, to reduce their embarrassment caused by PAF’s counter-strike operation “Swift Retort”. They projected their downed pilot Wing Commander AbhinandanVarthaman as a war hero and later on awarded him with one of the highest gallantry awards “Vir Chakra”. This negative and unprofessional attitude of IAF leadership, throughout the crisis, does not speak highly of a professional force as claimed by IAF.
One more essential of military leadership is to seek and take responsibility, for the decisions and the actions committed. However, IAF leadership refused initially to accept the shooting down of their own Mi-17 helicopter in friendly fire and declared the helicopter-crash a result of a technical fault. Later on, after three months, they accepted and court-marshaled 5 officers for their negligence, which depicts that IAF leadership could not handle the extreme public and political pressure, because of which they did not accept their failure earlier.
The ultimate goal of good leadership is to achieve the intended goals. Indian Leadership may have achieved its political goals but miserably failed at strategic and operational levels, putting the regional security at stake in Balakot Crisis. Because of its unique geopolitical, geostrategic, cultural, social and economic peculiarities, South Asian regional security is a distinct and complex phenomenon, which demands responsible military leadership and quality decision-making under pressure in order to sustain the stability in the region and to avoid crisis escalation.


~Abdullah Rehman Butt is working as a researcher at Centre for Aerospace and Security Studies (CASS). This artile was first published in DailyNHT newspaper. he can be reached at

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