The army deserves high praise for the destruction of militant launch pads across the Line of Control on Wednesday night. That the soldiers who participated in the daring operation got back without casualty or even injury is admirable.

The disastrous US operation — also using helicopters and para-commandos — to rescue its diplomatic staff from Iran in 1980 highlighted the military and political risks of such operations in hostile territories (where the home government and army have not been persuaded to turn a blind eye).

Representational image. Reuters

Representational image. Reuters

Equally commendable is the maturity with which India’s political and military leadership opted for this proportionate response to the Uri attack ten days earlier. Destroying those launch pads in a coordinated triple strike from three different army division headquarters was an adequate response, but not an overly belligerent one.

The government deserves even more praise for building consensus immediately after. It reached out to explain its actions not only to the media, the spectrum of political party leaders, and the international community, but also to the range of state governments. This last gesture, reminiscent of Jawaharlal Nehru’s federal inclusiveness, is laudable.

This operation has revived faith in the country’s intelligence-gathering abilities too. One hears the army had information of 300 trained militants at those launch pads, ready to infiltrate into the Indian side of the Line of Control. In light of the mayhem they would have caused, the strike was legitimate defence against aggression — even if one did not view it as a response to the Uri attack.

Getting past nuclear blackmail

By penetrating only a couple of kilometres across the Line of Control within the state of Jammu and Kashmir, India has finally worked out an appropriate response to the nuclear blackmail which Pakistan has used for 30 years.

It was in 1986 that General Zia-ul-Haq indicated to India’s interlocutors such as former foreign secretary MK Rasgotra that Pakistan too had a nuclear weapon. True, the two countries only announced to the world that they had nukes in 1998, but India had tested one in 1974 and Pakistan had developed one (with Chinese help) by the mid-1980s.

It was only with that weapon-shield in place that Pakistan propped up Kashmir’s militant insurgency from 1988. Of course, the Indian government committed enough mistakes between 1984 and 1987 to put things in place for Pakistan. It split the National Conference and dislodged Farooq Abdullah. The replacement government, known as ‘curfew raj’, was replaced with Governor’s rule and then a shotgun Congress-NC alliance. Then came the rigging of the 1987 elections and violence against candidates and election agents who then became militants assuming names such as Syed Salahuddin and Yasin Malik.

Successive Indian governments considered going to war against Pakistan over the Kashmir militancy at least thrice during the 1990s, but were deterred by Pakistan’s nuclear weapons. So jittery had the US become in May 1990 that Deputy National Security Advisor Robert Gates was told to fly from Moscow, where he was on a visit, directly to Islamabad and New Delhi. He met both prime ministers, but it is said that neither of them knew of the Pakistan Army’s suspicious (probably nuclear weapons-related) moves over the past couple of days — of which Gates showed both premiers satellite pictures.

In that context, the news that Secretary of State Kerry called External Affairs Minister Swaraj twice in the previous two days, and that the current US National Security Advisor too called her Indian counterpart on the eve of the Indian strike, is interesting. It would seem that the US was once again well-informed about what was afoot.

Preparedness and balance

The US’s will not be the only intelligence set-up that will now be keenly watching what will ensue.

No doubt there will be militant strikes within the Kashmir Valley, sooner or later. For, though the strike prevented the crossing of a large number of potential infiltrators, a larger number has already entered the Valley over the past couple of years.

Battles between militants and forces within the Valley are not new. But now that the government has so successfully taken the battle to the opponent’s half of the field, it must be ready to face more aggressive responses without losing the moral upper hand by coming across as irresponsible.

The government has already announced that it is ready for ‘anything’. The question is whether Pakistan will opt for other sorts of responses than militancy within Kashmir and, if so, whether these will be on the borders or within India.

Another key question is whether Pakistan’s chief benefactor, China, will now urge it against escalation or back further belligerence against India.

An apocryphal Chinese curse says: ‘May you live in interesting times.’ We surely do.

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