The day after…war or peace?

Madhusudhana Rao S

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Madhusudhana Rao S

A day after India conducted surgical strikes on terrorist camps inside the Pakistan-occupied Kashmir crossing the Line of Control, all was quiet on the western front on Friday. Is it the calm before the storm? Nobody knows. But India is bracing for a retaliatory action from the other side. Villagers in the border areas are being evacuated, all the fighting units have been kept in battle-ready modes and leaves of civilian and military officials cancelled. That means the Indian government and the armed forces do not want to leave anything to chance. Nor do they want to be caught napping.

Although the Indian government and military officials insisted on Thursday night that the surgical strikes had a limited purpose –elimination of terrorist launch pads in pre-identified spots -–and there was no intention of repeating the operation in other areas along the LoC, the midnight operation had fuelled the talk of a full-blown war between the two arch rivals. Some ‘analysts’ have speculated even a nuclear conflagration.

If we look at the history of Indo-Pak border tensions they are like ebb and flow. Similarly, cross-border firings and their escalations are also common. But what separates the Wednesday-Thursday midnight secret mission from the usual exchange of fire is India’s bid to go after terrorist outfits in occupied Kashmir. This had never been done so far because such missions were fraught with risks, the main one being a full-scale war.

And, for decades, Pakistani military and civilian leaders have perpetrated a myth that if India violates Pak sovereignty, Delhi has to pay a heavy price. In this respect, Islamabad has extended its sovereign right to Occupied Kashmir despite the fact that it is a disputed territory. So far, New Delhi has meekly accepted Pak claim and restrained itself from crossing the Line of Control in hot pursuit of Pak Army-trained terrorists and other Jihadist groups.

Now, there is a paradigm shift in India’s thinking with the surgical strikes. Post-operation, justifying Delhi’s decision, some experts had argued that since Pak-occupied area was part of Kashmir, we have every right to wipe out radical elements holed up there. Though their assertion sounds convoluted to ward off international condemnation, it raises a tricky question and stirs up a hornet’s nest why such missions had not been undertaken when cross-border terrorism was at a nascent stage. Had it been responded with an iron hand we would not have been facing a bigger menace now.   

Nevertheless, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s decisive act has shown Pakistan and the outside world that India can –and is capable of – break with the past and chart a new risk-taking course.

That’s what this country needs. For a change, people from every walk of life, irrespective of class or creed, put aside raging controversies that are more divisive in nature than uniting the people and hailed the Prime Minister and his team and the armed forces for making an ‘impossible’ mission possible.

It’s a psychological boost to a country that has been a victim of numerous terrorist attacks, including two on forward Army bases in a span of nine months this year. The euphoric moment has had its political fallout too: The rise of Modi. Even his perpetual critics and detractors had words of praise and admiration for him. Obviously, the opposition doesn’t want to be seen as anti-national in the eyes of public that is idolizing Modi.

Even Congress Vice-President Rahul Gandhi, a trenchant critic of Modi, had a few good words to say about his nemesis. He said, “It is the first action worthy of a PM. When the Prime Minister does the job a PM is supposed to do, I support him. I want to congratulate him. The whole country is with him. All of us stand firmly united against terrorism and those who support and sponsor it.”

Since the selective target strikes are seen as an anti-terrorism operation, not war against Pakistan (no heavy artillery or Army were used), which dismissed it as a flash in the pan, escalation fears are discounted, at least for the time being. But the possibility of conflict looms large if there is another terrorist attack from across the border and India responds with similar surgical strikes. 

If Pakistani leaders see the writing on the wall in India’s action, despite trivializing it with bravado and putting up a brave face, they would rein in anti-India militant groups and restrain jihadi elements. But if the leaders are bent upon foisting a war on India through non-state actors, India has to be prepared for that. In other words, the ball is in Pak court: war or peace. Either way, what’s certain is Islamabad can’t take India’s restraint for granted forever.

The day after, in Pakistan, the media seemed to have scoured all available tomes to pick choicest words to expose India’s ‘lies.’ Major English language dailies’ banner headlines poured scorn and spewed venom on India’s “attempts to malign Pakistan.” If Indian observers expect anything better, that’s their mistake.

And, strangely, Pakistan cabinet that met on Friday with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in the chair had nothing much to say to the public. A government press release listed the topics, including LoC events, that were discussed and reiterated the government’s resolve to defend the country.

Has Pakistan subdued with the sudden turn of events or is it cooking up something else?

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