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India adds offence to its strategic lexicon

Ammunition dump blown up in Balakot, Pakistan by IAF Mirages on Tuesday. The dump had more than 200 AK rifles, uncountable rounds hand grenades, explosives and detonators. (ANI)Premium
Ammunition dump blown up in Balakot, Pakistan by IAF Mirages on Tuesday. The dump had more than 200 AK rifles, uncountable rounds hand grenades, explosives and detonators. (ANI)

  • Strikes seen as India’s bid to draw fresh red lines to redefine security calculus
  • The strike by five Mirage fighters raises the conflict threshold beyond the low-intensity cross-border conflict 

By launching air strikes against terror training base in Pakistan, India has rewritten the rules of the sub-continent’s Great Game and in the process strategically repositioning itself in the region.

The strikes by five Mirage fighters is also being seen as an attempt by India to draw fresh red lines to redefine the security calculus, raising the conflict threshold beyond the low-intensity cross-border conflict and bolstering India’s Cold Start doctrine—the plan to attack Pakistan within 48 hours of any major provocation or terror attack without risking a nuclear conflagration.

The strikes come in the backdrop of China’s security concerns in South Asia historically been centred around its desire to use Pakistan to thwart India’s rise as a challenger to China’s dominance in Asia.

“Geostrategically, India is repositioning itself and has upped the ante. In many ways India has strategically recalibrated its assertive position by what its calls a ‘non- military pre-emptive strike’ both regionally and globally," said Shweta Singh, assistant professor in international relations at the South Asian University in Delhi.

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China considers Pakistan an all-weather ally, describing their friendship as “higher than the Himalayas and deeper than the deepest sea in the world, and sweeter than honey".

The Indian move comes at a time of talks on the Afghan reconciliation process amid reports of US troop withdrawal from the country. India has been keeping a close eye on the Taliban, the group in control of large swathes of the war-torn country. India has maintained that it along with the US “shared perspectives on peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan."

“India’s non-military pre-emptive strike needs to be read at three levels. Firstly, it was specifically aimed at Jaish and not Pakistan; secondly, this was pre-emptive in motive given the intelligence on more attacks by Jaish; and thirdly, a clear message to the international community, that it needs to act vis-à-vis Pakistan, as the Indian state led by Narendra Modi, will not refrain from an offensive position in the wake of continued cross-border terrorists attacks," Singh added.

Presciently, US President Donald Trump had described the situation as “very dangerous" and said he could understand New Delhi’s desire for something “very strong".

The Indian Air Force (IAF) strikes follow the 14 February suicide attack by the Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) terror group that killed 40 Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) soldiers in Jammu and Kashmir’s Pulwama district. Prime Minister Modi recently said the armed forces had been given a free hand to respond to the Pulwama attack at the time of their choosing.

“Credible intelligence was received that JeM was attempting another suicide terror attack in various parts of the country, and the fidayeen jihadis were being trained for this purpose. In the face of imminent danger, a pre-emptive strike became absolutely necessary," said foreign secretary Vijay Gokhale.

This comes at a time when Saudi Arabia has joined a growing list of countries in condemning the Pulwama terror attack, further isolating Islamabad. The Saudi condemnation is significant, given the Kingdom’s influential role in the Muslim world.

Interestingly, the strikes have had no bearing on the global oil market, with both West Texas Intermediate and Brent trading low on Tuesday. Experts are of the opinion that the strike is unlikely to have any impact, given that the South Asian nations share common geographical sourcing points.


Utpal Bhaskar

"Utpal Bhaskar leads Mint's policy and economy coverage. He is part of Mint’s launch team, which he joined as a staff writer in 2006. Widely cited by authors and think-tanks, he has reported extensively on the intersection of India’s policy, polity and corporate space.
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