External affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee’s repeated statements that the time for talks is over, that India has kept all options open, suggest that New Delhi has gone beyond the customary waffling stage. The fact that for the first time ever, 126 envoys have been summoned to the Capital is indication that India is trying to ascertain in greater detail global reactions to possible surgical strikes against Pakistan. On Pakistan’s part, its flip-flops on the terror issue with its top politicians speaking in different voices clearly indicate that the civilian government is either unwilling or unable to act against the so-called non-State actors.
The question that everyone is asking is whether a first-strike by India would draw the region into a nuclear confrontation.
It well might and this has obviously been factored into the calculations, as the presence of the Atomic Energy chief Anil Kakodkar at the high-level national security meeting shows. The scale of the Mumbai attacks was such that New Delhi cannot let Pakistan off the hook with the odd demarche. And for once, almost all the major countries are with India, with the possible exception of China that blocked a UNSC resolution against Pakistan on the issue. It is here that India needs to play its diplomatic cards deftly. The Americans have made no bones of their impatience with Pakistan’s waffling on non-State actors. The message from Washington has been clear — anyone operating from your soil is your responsibility.
Any military action by India must be grounded in a multilateral consensus. In the past, after each terror attack, India has found itself whistling in the dark. This time, the world has rallied around. Pakistan’s allies, like the US, must be prevailed upon to put more pressure on it to dismantle terror infrastructure and bring the culprits to book. For all its bluster that it will hit back if India attacks, the consequences of a war now will be far more devastating for Pakistan given that it is bankrupt and has no visible chain of command. It has said it does not want war. The way to avert any escalation of hostilities would be to act decisively against these non-State actors who are equally capable of turning against Pakistan any day. The moment of reckoning has come for Pakistan. And which way it turns will decide the fate of the entire region.