(Photo: PTI)
(Photo: PTI)

Opinion | India’s response to Pulwama by crossing LoC has altered conflict dynamics

The major global powers will wait and want to know what Pakistan’s reaction will be 

The dastardly Pulwama attack caused casualties which were well beyond the acceptable threshold. It involved maximum number of security forces being killed by a strike by Pakistan and its terror outfits—the number has been the highest since terrorism began in Kashmir 30 years ago.

India had no choice but to retaliate and Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the political leadership were categorical and certain that Pakistan would have to pay a price for Pulwama and retaliation would take place anytime. This was expected and every Indian was waiting for it to happen. Questions were being asked by one and all as to when a strike, in response to Pulwama, would take place.

The temperature in India had been steadily rising. In terms of levels of alertness, from the day the Pulwama attack was carried out, Pakistan was alert and ready. It realized that there would be retaliation in whatever form from India and so they were on high alert from the very beginning.

For us, everything has gone along expected lines. However, there is something notable here: It was only during 1971 that India had gone into mainland Pakistan to conduct strikes. In between, there have been cases of terror attacks, Kargil, surgical strikes, so on and so forth and other strikes including firing across the border. But all through, we have remained within the Line of Control (LoC). Now, going across Pakistan, into a major terror facility of the Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) located on Pakistani soil, on mainland Pakistan very close to the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, has altered conflict dynamics.

A lot of things will change now because India’s leadership, including the military, believe any action on mainland Pakistan could start escalations and controlling it would be extremely difficult. It could potentially invite the use of nuclear weapons, which would be a disaster of epic proportions—one that was last only witnessed in 1945 in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. To cut a long story short—it would be terrible and so the Indian leadership has always been very hesitant to cross the LoC.

In Kargil, we had every reason to cross over into Pakistani soil, because Pakistan had crossed the LoC and occupied Indian land that had been clearly defined in the maps, post 1971. What happened on Tuesday is a major departure from the usual Indian reaction. This also enhances the level of response from Pakistan. But so far, the reaction that we have seen from them is similar to that after the surgical strike—a clear element of deniability. They have been evasive in their acknowledgement, despite our claims that we had demolished the Jaish facility in Balakot.

Much will now depend on how Pakistan reacts. The major global powers will be with India, but if it takes an escalation route, then that support too will dilute because their fear is that if the game turns into limited war, there will be increasing stakes of major conflagration. It will be an extremely precarious situation, and everyone will be extremely bothered about such an eventuality. So, over the next few weeks, everyone will wait and will want to know what Pakistan’s reaction will be.

India has been very calm. We have been very restrained all through. The foreign secretary’s use of language has been restrained and his language, astute. He has drawn the context setting very precisely as to how Pulwama happened and how attacks have taken place all these years by Pakistan. He has also very carefully highlighted how we have been warning Pakistan and how they have continued these attacks.

Even in our restraint, we have again brought out the fact that we had information from intelligence that more attacks were likely and so we went for a non-military intelligence-driven approach and attacked a terror facility to pre-empt these strikes.

Kapil Kak is former air vice marshal, Indian Air Force.

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