There is a question that needs to be asked by India after the death and mutilation of two of its soldiers by a surprise Pakistani attack across the Line of Control is: Why? The LoC regularly sees tit-for-tat but limited military action between the two armies. The rough figure of over 30 such
incidents for the first eight months of 2012 trends closely to what New Delhi has experienced along the LoC the past two years. The infiltration of terrorists is generally believed to have risen recently, but not enough to wrinkle the brows of India's security establishment.
The Mendhar incident was remarkable for two reasons. The first was the beheading of one of the soldiers. Mutilation has not traditionally been a modus operandi of the Pakistani army in its clashes with the Indian military. This is something associated more with militants than professional soldiers. The second is the degree of publicity the Pakistani system has given the earlier Indian Army incursion which, it claims, led to the Mendhar action. Again, both governments have tended to keep their border clashes out of the public limelight. The reason for this matter-of-fact manner towards border incidents has been a desire to quarantine the broader bilateral relationship from these lesser sources of friction. There is a case for saying the present norm on the border can be traced back to the overthrow of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan. The end of the once regular artillery exchanges and the decline in terror in Kashmir can be traced in no small part to the Pakistani army's conclusion that it could not afford conflict on two fronts. Since the fall of the Musharraf regime there seems to have been a slight but steady rise in both infiltration and LoC assertiveness by Pakistan. This, in turn, is connected to the drumbeat of retreat being sounded from Kabul by US troops.
If this correlation is correct, with the Obama administration veering ever more strongly to the idea of handing Kabul to the Taliban, India must assume a greater degree of friction along its Kashmir border. As Rawalpindi feels more secure on its western flank, it can be expected to be more militarily assertive on its eastern side. Things will not necessarily return to what they were 20 years ago. India is much more powerful today. Pakistan is more enfeebled. And Kashmir's landscape has also shifted. India should continue to hold out the carrot of greater trade, a functional civil society model and more to Pakistan. But it must also be prepared to wield a stick - albeit a controlled and proportionate stick. And it must wielded with the clear purpose of telling Pakistan it cannot assume a return to an earlier and bloodier bilateral relationship without major repercussions - repercussions it can ill afford.