Home Opinion The Factivist India has called Pakistan’s nuclear bluff again, but Modi cannot become complacent

India has called Pakistan’s nuclear bluff again, but Modi cannot become complacent

Pakistan and the world will have to keep the redefined red lines in mind. But India can’t be complacent, because Pakistan’s compulsive bad habits return.

Shekhar Gupta
PM Narendra Modi at Gandhi Peace Prize award at Rashtrpati Bhawan in New Delhi | Praveen Jain/ThePrint

IAF’s cross-border airstrikes leave certainties in their wake. Some negative and some positive. In India and Pakistan. Let’s list some of either.

  • It will not conclusively end Pakistan’s strategy of using low-cost proxies against India. Depending on whether there is an escalation or not, it may stay calm for some time. But compulsive bad habits return. They did soon enough after the defeat in Kargil with the Parliament attack in December 2001. After the panic of Op Parakram in Mumbai, 2008. And following that global opprobrium, lately with Pathankot and Pulwama. Respite for India, if at all, will be short-lived. There is no immediate scope for complacence.
  • Going ahead, Pakistan and the global community will have to keep the redefined red lines in mind. There will be an Indian military response to terror strikes coming from Pakistan. India has dropped three self-imposed limitations of the past: One, keeping conflicts of Kashmir within and not expanding to the “mainland” (Pakistan outside of what it occupies of Kashmir). Two, within Kashmir, the sanctity of the LoC/international border. And three, pro-active use of air power.
  • Pakistan has so far executed a low-cost strategy of keeping India hurting and off-balance by using expendable proxies. Over the decades, there is no doubt left that the Pakistan Army uses Jaish-e-Mohammed and Lashkar-e-Taiba as kamikaze force-multipliers, giving the establishment plausible deniability. Even when internationally-acknowledged researchers establish the connection, Pakistan gets away by finally blaming it on non-state actors, or a deep state (ISI rogues) within a deep state (ISI) within yet another deep state (army). Check out the David Coleman Headley example. This is now over. India has demonstrated that it no longer accepts that state/non-state distinction.
  • For too long has Pakistan thrived on the presumption that as long as it use its proxies in mufti, India will hesitate to use its uniformed forces directly in its territory. This has changed. Pakistani strategists will now need to keep this reality in mind. The basic truth is, Pakistan can cynically employ its expendable, indoctrinated, mostly illiterate youth. Like any modern democracy, India has no access to such forces. It has no choice other than its regular forces.
  • If Pakistan so wishes to use it, Indian action has left it with plenty of scope for plausible deniability. It can say just a shallow penetration took place, even claim its fighters chased the IAF away. It has sufficient control over its territory and media access to control the narrative and say nothing was damaged, nobody was killed. As with the post-Uri surgical strikes. Kargil showed it can even bury its uniformed dead in secret.

Also read: IAF’s Balakot strike lasted 21 mins, used 1,000 kg Israeli bombs fed with GPS coordinates


  • If Pakistan wishes to retaliate, it has to also know that this isn’t a game of cricket with one innings for either side. This will go on. Does it want to go down that slope, or climb that escalatory ladder? You can choose your metaphor, but for Pakistan, the choice is tougher.
  • Should it still wish to go ahead, it sure has the instruments, aircraft and stand-off weapons to do so. But it has to then prepare for an attrition spiral. And what will it hit in retaliation? India does not offer any civilian equivalent of Jaish and Lashkar. Hitting Indian military raises the level of conflict to beyond where India has suggested it means to keep it: Non-military response.
  • The first important international reaction has come from China. It has counselled restraint on both sides. This must greatly disappoint Pakistan because it would have expected its most trusted all-weather friend to make a straight condemnation of India. But it’s a new world with no patience for terror as an instrument of policy. We have now to wait for Washington to wake up, and keep a close watch on Trump’s Twitter page.
  • Since the Americans and the Saudis too are unlikely to say what Pakistan wants, its leaders will have to weigh their leverage with the world again. They’ve believed that their geography gives them unique powers with the world. Trump can’t leave Afghanistan without their help, the Chinese are too heavily invested in their economy to dump them, and the Saudis depend on them for their national and personal security. They might see the limitations and risks of that presumption now.

Also read: These are the 3 locations in Pakistan that were bombed by Indian Air Force


  • And finally, we need to watch how this plays out in our domestic, electoral politics. There will be risks in post-Uri type chest-thumping. Because there is no knowing if there will be a retaliatory cycle set, and if so how and when. The strategically smart thing would be to stay calm and keep it non-partisan, at least for the next several days. It seems unlikely though, if you heard Narendra Modi speak at his campaign meeting in Churu in Rajasthan Tuesday, with the pictures of all the CRPF dead from Pulwama on the backdrop of his stage.

In conclusion: ‘Game-changer’ is a much-abused expression these days. It doesn’t even do justice to the significance of this turn of events. So please suggest something more apt for a development with profound implications which are tactical, strategic and political.

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9 COMMENTS

  1. SHEKHAR GUPTA IS A TYPICAL PRODUCT OF A CORRUPT MEDIA, WHO NOW DOTS THE INDIA MEDIA SCENE. MOST OF THESE SO CALLED JOURNALISTS, HAS NOW AMASSED WEALTH COMPARED TO AMBANIS AND GOENKAS. NONE OF THEM ARE NOW RECRUITED BY ANY HONOURABLE MEDIA HOUSES ( DOES A NON CORRUPT MEDIA EXIST ! ).
    HE HAS HIS SOURCES IN ALL SPACES OF SOCIETY DUE TO HIS LONG ININGS IN MEDIA. WE DO NEED TRAITORS LIKE HIM TO BE ALERT, AS THEY ALREADY HAD BEEN EXPOSED.
    THE LIST IS END LESS
    BARKHA
    SHEKHAR
    RADHIKA
    WHOLE OF NDTV
    CNBC
    ETV
    TOI
    ABP
    ETC ETC.

  2. Shekhar Gupta has been exposesd badly as ISI & China agent& a corrupt media dalal being on congress payroll.He has no right to comment on national or international issues any more.he is blot on India media

  3. Even in this well written article, The Print has clearly tried to save khangress (The master of The print) and its all defence scam and tilting the blame on bureaucracy and Vajpayee government. Shame on The Print publication.

    • I am absolutely in agreement. Some people, like Mr Shekhar Gupta have collected huge venom in their mind that they would never ever appreciate good things done by an establishment which is not of their liking. Only God can save us and our nation from their dirty minds. God bless their soul!

  4. If 70 years of experience in the sub-continent has taught anything it is that Pakistan is on its Gazwa-e-Hind crusade, that “Hindustan” was ruled by Muslims and that this should be restored. Kashmir is just a convenient pretext. If that problem was resolved the apologists of softly-softly approach should beware if they think India’s problems would vanish that they are being rather naive and fanciful.Pakistan doesn’t care a hoot for the Kashmiris. In fact, in POK, they have engineered a demographic change by infusion of Punjabis and outflow of Kashmiris into rest of Pakistan in pursuit of finding a livelihood. If India has to constantly restrain itself from any retaliation against terror attacks and loss of Indian lives and assets in deference to Pakistan’s nuclear capability, what is the point of our own nuclear deterrence because those who warn us about risk of Pakistani nuclear attack clearly do not have faith in our own nuclear deterrence? Pakistan economy is in ruin, China’s economy is in relative doldrums, and they have trade problems with Trump. India cannot be in a better position from taking a harsh stand against this recalcitrant neighbour. Jaish have openly claimed responsibility for Pulwama so if Imran Khan is serious about solving mutual issues he should start by closing down Jaish and handing over Maulana Azhar to India, or at least to the International Court. Yes, a superpower should show maturity and restraint but on the other hand a pussy footing India could never be or aspire to be a super power.

  5. “Morale booster’ is the term I would like to use. Undoubtedly, it is not end of Pak-sponsored terrorism. However, after the Pulwama attack there was an air of despondency – India was caught in a trap and it seemed that India had no answer to the repeated terrorist onslaughts. Now the despondency is gone. Pakistan will have to be wary of the redlines every time it plans something big. Thus I believe that the airstrike has a mitigating effect. Pakistan will have suck this in- there is no other option, though its oral bravado may continue. China has urged Pakistan to maintain restraint. Pakistan did Pulwama, India did Balakot. This is equal now, no further action required. Let us now focus on the general elections- the exercise that matters the most for our democracy. It is a reasonable guess that pakistan will not so something as mad as striking India during the election time. BJP doesn’t require to do any chest thumping. It has already scored its point. Let the country decide now.

  6. It’s sweet revenge for sure, but I wish things had not come to such a pass, that Pulwama hadn’t happened. Now we are precariously close to making Kashmir an “international” issue, unlike a “bilateral” issue which India had managed to keep it as for so many decades without really trying to solve it! India always had military superiority over Pakistan, but Mr Modi believes that it is the be all and end all of the Kashmir solution. USA had military superiority over Vietnam, and we know what happened.

    Some proactive steps should have been taken to initiate dialogue soon after the first surgical strike when India was in a position of strength and Pakistan and separatists were struck with awe. But Mr Modi went into smug-mode coupled with cessation of all dialogue. That, after his impromptu visit to Pakistan to hug Nawaz Sharif during some private function of his family.

    To break this impasse it is essential that a new leadership emerges in India after the elections. It is too early to say how Pakistan will react. Hope our happiness on today’s event proves lasting. Let’s keep our fingers crossed!

  7. Hitting Pakistan is commendable. But the crucial question is whether it will be followed by policies intended to win over the Kashmiri minds or the strike on Jaish camp will be viewed as making it convenient for more repressive measures.

  8. Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale has won wide praise for his calm, measured presentation. The tone a responsible power should use while dealing with unprovoked, low intensity but completely unacceptable pinpricks of terrorism from a pesky neighbour. The timing of these events is very close to the general election. Let each Indian citizen make her own assessments on how challenges to national security are being dealt with by the government. Importing / injecting these elements into the electoral discourse would not be wise. All the more, as the column explains, because we do not know what lies ahead, how this dangerous standoff will play out.

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