By permitting the army to conduct a surgical strike on terrorist launchpads (the actual training camps are closer to the Afghan border) in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir Thursday morning, the government has killed two birds with one stone. One, it has definitely and overwhelmingly assuaged the growing public and military clamour for action after Uri. But two, and more importantly, it has also drawn a clear line which Pakistan can now cross at its own peril. The rules of the game, which were earlier dictated by the generals in Islamabad, have changed dramatically. If anything, there’s now a reversal of roles at some level. Earlier, each terrorist strike by Pakistani terrorists on India was immediately followed by international pressure on New Delhi to exercise restraint. Today, it is Pakistan that is likely to face such pressure following the unexpected strike, which left Islamabad floundering for an apt response.
The series of Cold Start exercises which Indian Forces have been conducting since 2004, have finally paid off, since the exercise was carried off with text book precision. Even if the claim by Pakistan’s Dawn newspaper of one Indian soldier having been captured is true, it only nails the Pakistani lie that Indian Forces did not dare cross the border.
What led to this sudden and dramatic change in policy? We’ve had far deadlier strikes before, including the December 2001 attack on Parliament, which led to a massive mobilization on the border and the subsequent humiliating climbdown under international pressure and nuclear sabre-rattling by Pakistan.
That, in fact, is what made us reconsider our military philosophy and come up with the Cold Start Doctrine, which essentially is another word for a quick, surgical strike before the international community wakes up to exert pressure.
But despite honing our capabilities with several practice sessions since then, we never used it simply because of the fear that it could quickly escalate into a wider, nuclear conflict. Pakistan played on that fear by declaring that it had issued strategic nuclear warheads to its army commanders. And then, of course, there was always the concern that Islamabad’s big brother, Beijing, would get involved. Of course, this does not mean that all such attacks went unavenged. Following the beheading of an Indian soldier on the border in 2013, there were reports that Indian forces had crossed the border and taken out a couple of Pakistani army bunkers and the people in them. These reports were neither confirmed nor denied by New Delhi. But the fact remains that even during the Kargil war, or after the attack 26/11 attacks on Mumbai, India took pains to officially avoid crossing the Line of Control, despite immense public pressure.
So what sparked this change ? One, India decided that Pakistan’s nuclear threshold was far higher than hitherto believed. Nuclear weapons have always been a weapon of last resort, and it was unlikely that Pakistan’s military did not know the consequences of such use. Two, by immediately going public with the fact that we had conducted such a strike in order to take out terrorists attempting to sneak into India and cause mayhem, we constricted Pakistan’s ability to widen the scope of the conflict
The other assumption, that Beijing would rush to respond in case of such a strike, was also found wanting. China may be Pakistan’s all-weather friend, but it has shown it’s reluctance to get involved in the India Pak spat on several occasions, including 1971. This is not because China is afraid to get involved, but because it sees no immediate strategic gains by doing so. Hence the only response from Beijing till the time of going to press was a muted appeal to both sides to exercise restraint. Three, India’s decision to strike at its own place and time fits well into National Security Adviser Ajit Doval’s constant refrain that the only way to check, if not stop, Pakistan’s perfidy was to make it increasingly expensive for them. The message going out is loud and clear: The price of exporting terror has gone up exponentially. Can Pakistan still afford it?