The Sunday attack on an army camp in Uri that killed 17 Indian soldiers has pushed to the limit already strained India-Pakistan relations, with the risk of spiralling into violence and public recriminations that the two countries are known for in the international community.
There is widespread outrage in India over the deadly attack, and Delhi will likely conclude that a suicide attack with such high military casualties could not have been carried out without the imprimatur of the Pakistan Army and/or the ISI.
Rawalpindi has a number of motivations to sanction this attack — the principal one being to establish a measure of symbolic parity with India. From its vantage, it sees Delhi seizing the initiative and setting the pace of bilateral ties in recent weeks.
The Narendra Modi government has tackled brutally the civilian unrest in Kashmir and blamed the crisis on Islamabad. It has also gone on the offensive on Balochistan, following up on PM Modi’s Independence Day remarks by raising the issue at the UN human rights council on September 14. More is anticipated at the UN General Assembly soon.
The anti-Pakistan tenor of Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani’s visit to India will also have annoyed the Pakistan establishment. Signing off on such an attack would be to signal to Delhi that as a revisionist power, it too has some cards to play.
It is vital for the Modi government to quickly establish the provenance of this attack — to assess whether it originated in Pakistan or if there was a measure of local involvement in the operation as both will have different meanings and guide future policy.
If it is indeed the elements of the Pakistan establishment that were behind this then it is clear that Islamabad no longer wants to step back while India’s strong-arm tactics towards Kashmiri civilians continue. From Islamabad’s perspective, the unrest is a spontaneous uprising and it was keeping militancy in relative check to deny India the chance to represent the stone-pelters as being led by Pakistan. Since that has not held back Delhi, Islamabad perhaps feels that a spike in militancy will change Delhi’s calculations.
It is also possible that notwithstanding its “moral support” and concern for Kashmiris, Pakistan may have staged the attack to simply aggravate the situation for India. Islamabad has cynically used Kashmir to serve its own purposes in the past.
India’s response to a presumed provocation from across the border will evolve with time. New Delhi needs to urgently rethink its approach to Kashmir though. If the Uri attack had significant involvement of local Kashmiris then it is a sign of an implacable anger in the youth of the Valley, who have seen the killing of civilians in the last two months. That the youth in Kashmir are beginning to jettison pragmatic, self-preserving instincts and are contemplating armed violence again must worry Delhi.
There are calls in social media and in television studios for a strong reaction. The Modi government must ensure that reprisals against the neighbour do not translate into fresh crackdowns on Kashmiri civilians. That will make matters a lot worse and set in train events that may not be easy to control.
(Views expressed are personal. The author tweets as @SushilAaron )