A little over a fortnight ago, a suicide bomber belonging to Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) attacked a convoy transiting Pulwama in Jammu and Kashmir, killing 40 members of the security forces. Then last week, the payback, which Prime Minister Narendra Modi had promised, was delivered after the Indian Air Force (IAF) planes flew beyond the Line of Control (LoC) into Pakistan and bombed a JeM training site at Balakot.
Actually, it was more than just revenge. In the process, India, by justifying its unprecedented aggression as an act to maim Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM), which had claimed ownership of the Pulwama attack, unequivocally established the connection between Pakistan and its sponsorship of cross-border terrorism. Exactly why the usual chorus of “restraint" was missing in the response of most of the Western nations to the Balakot air strike? Even China, the all-weather ally of Pakistan, barely demurred in its appeal for de-escalation. There is probably a reason for this rethink. Terrorism, which does not respect geographical borders, is something that is afflicting countries across the world; though there was a time when the US had ignored the prescient warnings about cross-border terror by then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee.
In his address to the United Nations General Assembly in 2000, a year before the unfortunate terror attacks of 9/11 in the US, PM Vajpayee had cautioned the world that it would be a mistake to ignore the growing threat of cross-border terror promoted by Pakistan. And then, a year after 9/11, PM Vajpayee forcefully pressed his appeal once again. “Terrorism did not start on 11 September. It was on that day that it brazenly announced itself on the global stage, flaunting its immunity from distance and power," he said, before adding: “In our South Asian region, nuclear blackmail has emerged over the last few months as a new arrow in the quiver of state-sponsored terrorism. Dark threats were held out that actions by India to stamp out cross-border terrorism could provoke a nuclear war. To succumb to such blatant nuclear terrorism would mean forgetting the bitter lessons of the 11 September tragedy."
Since then, cities of Mumbai, London, Madrid and more recently Paris have become victims of cross-border terrorism. The world was beginning to lose its patience, especially with the fact that some trail inevitably led back to Pakistan.
Yet, our neighbour—led by its all controlling army—continued its dalliance with terror groups; if anything they got bolder. There had to be a tipping point; it may well be, when we look back with the benefit of hindsight, that the Pulwama attack was the defining moment.
India’s actions over the last week and the Pakistani response has jolted the status quo. For one, India has added counter-attacks to its strategic lexicon of self-defence. The first instance of this resolve probably took the Pakistanis by surprise, especially since India failed to muster such a strategy even after the audacious attack by JeM terrorists on the Indian Parliament, and later on in Mumbai. By flying some distance into Pakistan territory, India has sent a powerful signal about its intent, capability and resolve in its future pursuit of terrorists seeking a haven across the border.
Second, this end to the business-as-usual approach is, in turn, setting in motion new rules of engagement with Pakistan. It could well recalibrate the uneven relationship between the Pakistan army, which going by the growing internal strife, external vulnerability and a near bankrupt economy is seeing an erosion in its influence, and the civilian administration. Though the downside risk of an army perceiving a shrinking influence is a spike in their desperation levels; leaving them more inclined to embrace adventurism. Whether the new scenario is good or bad from India’s point of view would be known only over time.
In the final analysis, it is fair to ask whether India really needed to revisit its strategy on cross-border terrorism. While only history holds the answers, suffice to say for now, that every action entails a cost just as there is a price associated with inaction.
Anil Padmanabhan is managing editor of Mint and writes every week on the intersection of politics and economics. Comments are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org