Patience with terrorism is wearing thin
The audacious nature of the strikes within Pakistani territory by the Indian Air Force has pointed to a strategic shift in how New Delhi will approach retaliation for attacks sponsored from beyond the border. Inevitably, the comparisons between 26/2 and 26/11 have emerged. There has been plenty of commentary on how Mumbai wasn’t avenged, but Pulwama was.
Certainly, the purpose displayed by the Narendra Modi government was a change from exchanging dossiers, and was part of a series of operations beginning with those within Myanmar in 2015 to the post-Uri surgical strikes.
That determination, though, does not exist in a vacuum. A more enabling environment exists in the world today, certainly among progressive democracies, due to two principal factors: exhaustion with terrorism and the arrival of the 45th President of the United States.
In the decade since 26/11 occurred, the West has become far more aware of the global nature of jihad. That is mainly due to the extreme savagery of the Islamic State (IS) across a large territory of West Asia, and the extent of that brutality is still being literally uncovered. As hundreds of young fighters swarmed into the Caliphate from Western nations, the brotherhood of terror also struck within the capitals and cities of these countries. As other groups vowed allegiance to the IS, the realisation finally arrived that this was one organism with many tentacles. That may be why the ministry of external affairs’ statement mentioned jihad for the first time, and the world is no longer able to blithely seek out root causes and describe extremists as mere insurgents. Groups like Jaish-e-Mohammed and Lashkar-e-Taiba pose a menace to the world, not just India.
That may also be why reactions to the action by the Mirages on Tuesday were considered, rightly, in the context of necessary counterterror measures, and the usual prattle of restraint was appended, reversing the approach of previous years. Outside China, which has its own interests in propping up Islamabad, there was a refreshing change in perception, which underscores what a difference a decade can make. Also, that India is increasingly seen as a responsible actor on the global stage only adds to the switch.
Obviously, war is the worst option. That’s why de-escalation was the motif of statements released after Pakistan’s abortive attempt against Indian military installations.
Donald Trump has also helped, as his administration withdraws from the world, except when its interests matter. Intervention isn’t its calling card, and unlike the situation during the Kargil conflict or the attack on Parliament, American officials weren’t burning up the lines trying to get New Delhi to calm down. The calls for restraint have come now, as Pakistan commences its practised blackmail, whether of the nuclear war threat or with regard to Afghanistan.
It still required determination to proceed with a mission as risky as that on Tuesday, but the fighter jets were operating in a paradigm where patience with terrorists, anywhere, has worn thin.
Anirudh Bhattacharyya is a Toronto-based commentator on American affairs
The views expressed are personal