Every time there is a terrorist attack in India, a sense of urgency to go out for a war against Pakistan takes over every other narrative. The electronic and social media get caught in the clichés of the day- covert, overt operation, strategic restrain, diplomatic offence etc. Political and intellectual class depending on their allegiance/ideologies interpret government response-weak or strong.
After all this for a few weeks the narratives finally settle down for diplomatic solution. This is exactly what has been happening since Pakistan first used proxies to bleed India through thousand cuts, more specifically since parliament attack in 2001, when government initially decided to pull off the velvet gloves and go for an all out war, later backing down.
The problem with Indian strategy had been that it had no strategy, except one of stirring up of emotions and reverting back to diplomacy; that too because it thought it has no other option.
After the Uri attack, the same sense of urgency triumphed over, and it appeared in the first week that India is left with no other option but to fall back to diplomacy tools. All, barring a few experts, derived similar connotation from PM Narendra Modi’s speech in Kozhikode. It appeared Narendra Modi is not willing to take a step further towards military option.
But the government had different plan this time. In an unprecedented show of determination to fight against Pakistan sponsored terrorism, India pulled off all the gloves it has been holding on for decades even after facing numerous terrorist attacks from Pakistan. Government surprised everyone with a revelation of a surgical strike undertaken by Indian military forces in the wee hours of Thursday morning.
Further, it not only exercised its diplomatic might to isolate Pakistan, it has also been mulling over the idea to review generous Indus water treaty and withdrawing most favoured nation status to Pakistan. India in the past have stopped somewhere around these options, but Modi government understood the either options alone won’t be enough to persecute Pakistan. A combination of all would be the framework of engagement with Pakistan.
According to many analysts the similar kind of clandestine operation has been taken in the past, though there is not much evidence to prove it, as the government has never made it public in the past. It appears that earlier strikes cross/across border were merely a military retaliation or ad-hoc operation rather than a part of any strategy and therefore, had limited impact on Pakistan.
The surgical operation and subsequent announcement has achieved multiple objectives: first, India has broken free of its own rhetoric chain of being a responsible and mature nation, the attack helped to dispel long held sense of despair that had gripped India over its failure to respond to serial Pakistan-backed terrorist attacks. It also signals the abandonment of the earlier policy, whose hallmark was pusillanimity and fear of nuclear escalation.
Secondly, India understood that it cannot accomplish much by diplomatic means alone, and unless a considerable amount of cost is imposed on the Pakistan army, it will be business as usual. The advantage of the limited military strike against Pakistan across LoC is that it not only inflicts physical damage to the terrorist infrastructure, but also imposes cost to the invincible macho image of Punjabi forces, which it has fabricated over the years for domestic consumption.
A strike on the Raheel Sharif’s demi-god image, might broke the morals of indiscriminate forces in Pakistan. It is less likely to completely stop future proxy wars by Pakistan, but it certainly has raised the cost of proxy adventurism.
Finally, the strategy to brief top envoys of 25 countries including the US, China, Russia, the UK and France aimed at conveying the context of the strike puts the ball in international community’s court for de-escalation of the tension.
India immediately reaped the benefits, the US NSA Susan Rice in her early hour call to Indian NSA Ajit Doval, reiterated the point that Pakistan must take effective action to combat and delegitimise United Nations-designated terrorist individuals and entities, including Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jaish-e-Muhammad, and their affiliates.
It was the first time the US named the organisation involved in anti India activities. Russia, which was seen drifting towards Pakistan, after their joint military exercise last week, asked Pakistan to act against terrorist groups active in their country. Similar responses were received from Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and South Korea.
After showing considerable keenness to improve ties with Pakistan in his first two years of governance, even after few major terrorist attacks including Pampore and Pathankot, Modi government lost his faith in peace diplomacy after the Uri attack. The future course of action can best be left on future, but India taking a military step further has broken the shackles of the past.
By Tanushree Chakravorty