After years of strategic restraint, India’s Pakistan policy got a ‘defensive-offence’ posture on Wednesday.
The essence of this transition is a political message to the domestic audience that the Modi government is not afraid of exercising military option against the nuclear-armed neighbour.
The use of military option, in a restrained form, comes after the government’s overdrive to diplomatically isolate Pakistan. India was successful in scuttling the Saarc summit Pakistan was to host on November 9-10 in Islamabad.
The government reviewed the 1960 Indus water sharing pact and decided to step up efforts to make use of water rightfully belonging to it under the treaty.
“The government showed it can exercise political, diplomatic as well as military options. Military option was not something India wasn’t keen on using under its strategic restrain policy,” said former foreign secretary Lalit Mansingh.
But New Delhi has pitched exercising military option as a counter-terrorism measure for the international audience. This fits in the narrative of India being a victim of continuous cross-border terrorism and any government which faces such consistent onslaught would run out of patience.
From the attack on the Pathankot airbase, strike on its diplomatic missions in Afghanistan to killing of 18 soldiers in Uri, India has been under attack from Pakistan-based militant outfits.
Even when foreign secretary S Jaishankar summoned Pakistan envoy on the Uri attack, two operations were under way to fend off infiltrators. “The message is that there is a limit to government being mute witness to mindless cross-border violence,” Mansingh said.
And domestically, the narrative gives muscle for the BJP. As the optics of the Centre using military option against Pakistan gets played up, it will help the party politically and add to the image of Prime Minister Narendra Modi being a decisive leader.
On the other hand, Modi has enough to show to the world that he did everything possible to be friendly with Pakistan. And it just didn’t work out. “He tried his best to mend ways with Pakistan, but failed,” said Mansingh. But the world powers will be worried about any conflict between the two nuclear-armed rivals. There will be pressure to thwart any escalation in hostilities between the neighbours because of various factors, including the tenuous political and security situation in Afghanistan.
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