Explained International

IAF Conducted the Airstrikes in the Highest Traditions of ‘Just War’

India has finally retaliated to the gruesome attack in Pulwama by Pakistan’s state-sponsored terror factory claiming the lives of 40 CRPF brave hearts. The air strikes conducted by India on the biggest terror camp (training centre) run by Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) have reportedly led to killing of close to 300 terrorists.

The attack of this magnitude from India is not an ordinary operation launched along the Line of Control (LoC), but rather a well thought out move by Indian security forces. Even though the airstrikes by India can’t be called a war, it could well be a precursor to what is technically defined as war. Thus it can be examined from the standpoint of international rules and conventions.

Let us examine it with the help of globally-recognised ‘Just War’ theory, propounded by political scientists such as John Rawls, among others.

The theory of ‘Just War’ is based on three pillars as mentioned below with each pillar having their own set of principles.

  1. Jus ad bellum – Right conduct before war (Right to go to war)
  2. Jus in bello – Right conduct within war
  3. Jus post bellum – Right conduct after the war
Jus ad bellum (Nation’s right to go to war)
  • Just Cause – This is the most important principle of the first pillar according to which the reason for going to war cannot solely be punishing people who have done wrong; there must exist a threat to life of the people and action should be pre-emptive.

How India followed the above principle: The official media briefing by foreign secretary clearly suggests that there was credible intelligence about terrorists being trained at the Balakot training camp and who were planning further fidayeen attacks on India. Thus, it was a pre-emptive strike by India.

  • Competent Authority – A just war must be ordered by a duly elected political authority in a state where justice is dispensed through due process of law.

How India followed the above principle: India is the world’s largest democracy and has an elected Prime Minister where he can be held accountable for his actions by the law of the land.

  • Right Intention – The focus of this principle is that the nation waging a just war should be doing so for the cause of justice, and not for reasons of self-interest.

How India followed the above principle: Indian airstrikes have been launched with the right intention of serving the cause of justice and correcting the wrongs suffered by the Pulwama attack with no self-interest prompting the air strikes.

  • Last Resort – Force should be used only after all peaceful alternatives and options have been seriously tried and exhausted.

How India followed the above principle: India has conducted air strikes only after repeated requests to Pakistan to dismantle the terror networks flourishing in its country. India has also repeatedly requested United Nations to declare Maulana Masood Azhar, the JeM chief as a terrorist. But all these efforts have been in vain with the Indian government having no option but to resort to such an attack.

Jus in bello (Nation’s conduct within the war)
  • Discrimination – This principle of just war theory says that the acts of war should be directed towards combatants only and not towards non-combatantsor civilians.

How India followed the above principle: Similar to the surgical strikes, India’s air strikes have also been directed only at terrorists in training camps at Balakot. In fact, Indian government has officially said thatthe selection of target was also conditioned by India’s desire to avoid civilian casualty”. The bombs were dropped at the Balakot facility which was located in a thickly forested area on the top of a hill, away from any civilian habitations.

Jus post bellum (Nation’s conduct after the war)
  • Just Cause for Termination – This principle highlights the fact that a state may terminate the war if there has been a reasonable restoration of the rights that were violated and which triggered the conflict originally.

How India followed the above principle: Indian aircraft came back after dropping the payloads on the terror camps and didn’t engage in any other operations. This shows that the objective of restoring the right of self-defence was achieved. It was this right that was violated by terrorists in the Pulwama attack.

Therefore, the airstrikes by India have been in sync with the spirit and letter of the highest traditions of ethical warfare and globally-recognised just war principles. This operation not only denotes the professional competence of Indian armed forces to strike with such precision, but also the high moral standing of the soldiers serving the nation.