With the surgical strikes across the Line of Control (LoC), India has abandoned the doctrine of strategic restraint which had allowed Pakistan-based terror groups to hit India with impunity. With this, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has changed the India-Pakistan narrative.
Whether this will bring down the terror strikes launched from Pakistani soil or lead to a dangerous escalation between the two nuclear armed South Asian rivals is not clear.
This is the first time that Indian troops had crossed the LoC under the NDA government, something that was avoided during the Kargil incursions. The new narrative fashioned by the Prime Minister and the NSA is for every hit there will be a counter hit.
The Modi government has acted with maturity in handling the complex situation. The fact that DGMO Lt General Ranbir Singh had called up his counterpart to inform him and insist that India’s action along the LoC was not military action but “anti-terror” move is also worth noting. Unlike after the Myanmar operations, when there was much chest-thumping by many BJP leaders, including Minister of State for I&B Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore, this time around there was relatively less crowing.
The DGMO’s statement was to the point and brief. His statement mentioned action along the LoC, without letting out whether soldiers crossed the line. What the rest of the ministers said does not matter, but the official line kept the issue vague.
Government had no choice but to strike
For the BJP-led Modi government, there was no other choice. India’s patience was running low. In fact, since the 2008 Mumbai attacks, people’s anger at regular terror strikes from anti-India outfits nurtured by Pakistan have been growing. To be fair to Modi, despite his constant mocking of his UPA predecessor Manmohan Singh’s soft approach to terror, he too tried his best to befriend Pakistan. The invitation to Nawaz Sharif to attend his swearing-in, the detour from Kabul to call on Sharif on his birthday were all part of his effort for peace negotiations. But Pathankot and then Uri combined with Sharif’s eroding clout in Pakistan, made him realise the futility of his peace overtures. The death of 18 Indian soldiers in the Uri terror attack also led to the growing demand from Prime Minister’s own hardline followers for retaliatory action. The BJP has always believed in a strong government and failing to act against Pakistan would have indicated a measure of weakness that did not go down well with the PM’s strong man image.
The government had to act and to declare that it has done so openly. A covert operation was out of question because the people had to be told that Modi was not Manmohan Singh.
Instead of a knee-jerk reaction following the Uri attack, the government took time and covered the loopholes. In the diplomatic front, India gave its version to the assembled world leaders at the United Nations General Assembly. External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj spoke with maturity, while young Eenam Gambhir’s reply to Sharif was succinct. India not only announced that Modi will not travel to Islamabad for the Saarc Summit, but also got Bangladesh, Bhutan and Afghanistan to pull out. Regional isolation of Pakistan was complete. Doing this at the international level will not be easy, because the US needs Pakistan to get a peace deal negotiated in Afghanistan with the Taliban.
The US was kept in the loop with US Security Advisor Susan Rice speaking to Ajit Doval after Wednesday’s strikes. By evening, Foreign Secretary S Jaishankar also briefed 25 envoys about India’s action. Ambassadors of the P-5 countries — US, Russia, France, UK and China — were all present.
“Pakistan will not react immediately,” said former foreign Secretary Lalit Mansingh. “Sooner or later they will change the narrative,’’ he pointed out. The Pakistan army has not admitted to Indian attack at the seven launch pads along the LoC. They continue to maintain that it was cross-border firing in which two of their soldiers died and nine others injured. “Very soon, they will focus on unprovoked attack by India on Pakistan’s sovereignty. I think they will also take this before the UNSC.”
“India will be kept in tenterhooks through the festival season,” said Ambassador Mansingh.
Islamabad will also launch a counter-diplomatic offensive. They will brief China, the Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC) members, which includes major Islamic powers like Turkey and Egypt.
There will be much talk by Pakistani experts of using tactical nuclear weapons if Indian soldiers cross the LoC but the government is now willing to take this in its stride. There will be fresh tension between India and Pakistan. China, which has invested $46 billion in Pakistan for its one belt-one road initiative will call for talks.
Anxieties about problems in Balochistan will propel China to work for peace between India and Pakistan.
India and Pakistan will be on edge for the next few months and there will be blasts of accusations and counter-accusations from both capitals. The truth is: We are on uncharted waters and will have to see if this results in ultimate peace or war.