New Delhi: India on Thursday announced it had taken out 6-8 terrorist launch pads in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK)—in a rare move that had always been seen as an option “on the table" but never exercised given the potential costs of a possible escalation of the conflict into a nuclear war between India and Pakistan.

But with the Narendra Modi government crossing the Rubicon—so to speak—what are the options before the Pakistani army that has always threatened India with a retaliatory nuclear strike if its security was threatened?

For starters, the Pakistan army on Thursday said there was no surgical strike by India. “Instead there had been cross border fire initiated and conducted by India which is existential phenomenon. As per rules of engagement same was strongly and befittingly responded by Pakistani troops," said a statement from the Inter Services Public Relations, the publicity wing of the Pakistan army.

“Pakistan has made it clear that if there is a surgical strike on Pakistani soil, same will be strongly responded," it adds.

By denying the Indian army’s version of events, the Pakistan army reduces or negates any pressure on itself to retaliate with war or the nuclear option. But then for a country that has constantly denied the presence of terrorist training camps on its soil, perhaps there was no other choice.

To get even with India, the Pakistan army could withdraw from the 2003 ceasefire agreement along the border. The agreement is currently holding—just barely—given reports of its constant violation. It was seen as one of the biggest confidence-building measures between India and Pakistan in its heyday.

Withdrawal, however, means that India will also retaliate and given India’s conventional military superiority, Pakistan could end up paying a heavy price.

Also Read: Surgical strikes: India crosses LoC, Rubicon

But the Pakistani army could plan ambushes for Indian army patrols along the Line of Control in Kashmir like it did twice in 2013. The beheading of one of India’s soldiers in one instance, then, had raised a furore in India with tensions mounting between the two countries and peace talks getting suspended.

A low-cost and more damaging option could be to give a leg up to terrorist activities against India. The Pakistan army can bolster groups like the Lashkar-e-Toiba, the Jaish-e-Mohammed and the Hizbul Mujahideen that it supports, to carry out such terrorist strikes. It can also activate sleeper cells already present in India or try and infiltrate them into the country. A high-profile strike with a high toll, like in the case of the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attack, could be seen as the perfect way to counter the Indian surgical strikes. Given that India’s internal security mechanisms still need to be brought up to the mark, it may become the Achilles heel of India that the Pakistan military could choose to target.

There could also be terrorist attacks on Indian interests abroad—like the 7 July 2008 attack on the Indian embassy in Kabul in which four Indians, including two diplomats, and an Afghan national working at the embassy were killed. Indian consulates in Afghanistan have been a regular target of terrorist strikes.

Another option that the Pakistan army could exercise is to encourage separatist elements in Indian Kashmir to rebel against the state and keep the unrest in the region simmering. Indian security forces could have to use force to quell the violence which would in turn lend force to Pakistan’s diplomatic offensive against India on its alleged human rights violations in Kashmir.

Also Read: Narendra Modi walks the talk with surgical strikes against Pakistan

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