Counter strike: Responsive & responsible–Economic Times

India has hit back at Pakistan for the terror attack at Pulwama that killed more than 40 Indian paramilitary personnel. India’s air strike within Pakistani territory took out a terror training camp by Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM), the outfit that had organised the Pulwama strike 12 days before. The attack was announced not by the military brass but by India’s foreign secretary, who termed it a ‘preemptive action’ against a ‘non-military’ target. By disdaining to fudge violation of Pakistan’s air space by Indian aircraft but, at the same time, characterising the strike as non-military, India has both made a forceful statement of the intent to use force to defend its interests and put the onus on Pakistan for any escalation. This makes the counter-attack both measured and appropriate.

Proportionate and Tough

Initial responses from Pakistan suggest that it is likely to choose non-escalation by claiming that Indian planes had to flee after Pak aircraft scrambled on detection of Indian planes in Pakistani airspace, and that the bombs the fleeing planes dropped caused damage neither to property nor to personnel. This would be a sensible option that would cap the hostilities at a level below overt engagement by uniformed personnel of the two countries. Pakistan has, however, declared that it reserves the right to retaliate for India’s violation of its airspace in a manner and at a place and time of its choosing.

It is not surprising that Pakistan denies Indian planes blew up any terror camps. To admit that is not just to accept the reality of an Indian attack deep within its territory but also to accept that a terrorist training camp was underway in Pakistan. The presence of such a camp yields either of two unacceptable inferences: that Pakistan is a state sponsor of terror, or that the Pakistani State has no control of what goes on in its territory. Since Pakistan has not been able to extricate itself from the Financial Action Task Force’s grey list (FATF is a global body that acts against terror funds and money laundering by organised crime), it is in no position to accept that terror camps take place in its territory. So, it is no surprise that it vehemently denies that Indian planes destroyed any terror camp.

Calling Pakistan’s Nuclear Bluff What India has also done with the airstrikes is to call Pakistan’s nuclear bluff. Pakistan has a first-strike nuclear doctrine, claiming its nuclear option is its shield against India’s superiority in conventional warfighting capability. Can Pakistan dare to attack India in retaliation for violating its airspace, which affront it admits to? Right now, its choices are bleak. It is in dire financial straits and negotiating bailout loans from the IMF and emergency aid from Saudi Arabia and other Sunni Islamic nations, whose ‘sword arm’ it claims to be. It makes sense for Pakistan to play the responsible power, indulging its neighbour’s election-eve grandstanding, rather than risk economic collapse with an actual war.

The other option, as General Pervez Musharraf has pointed from convenient exile in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), is for Pakistan to hit India with a massive pre-emptive strike of some 40 nuclear warheads. That might seem a tad disproportionate for half-an-hour’s violation of its airspace, even to all-weather friend China. Xinhua carries a neutral report of the incident, without fulminating against Indian aggression.

That India had to act in response to Pulwama, in one form or another, was a given. That it has used a calibrated response — ‘overkill’ being the usual demand from quarters that have little stake and no idea in security matters — is to be applauded. Balakot is unlikely to herald the end of Pakistani-sponsored terror. But it certainly is a new start to India’s handling of it.

This piece appeared as an editorial opinion in the print edition of The Economic Times.

via Counterstrike: Responsive & responsible

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