The lessons from Pulwama | HT Editorial
Two years ago, on February 14, the terror outfit, Jaish-e-Mohammad, attacked a Central Reserve Police Force convoy in south Kashmir’s Pulwama, killing 40 security personnel. The attack provoked a strong Indian response in the form of the Balakot airstrike at a terror camp, an aerial incursion by Pakistan into Indian territory, the capture and subsequent release of an Indian fighter pilot, and eventually shaped the course of the Lok Sabha elections. The government framed the airstrike as a continuation of the surgical strike after Uri in 2016, and portrayed it as an example of “new India’s” tough approach to terror.
There is now enough distance to look back at the event — and the larger Indian policy on terrorism. There is little doubt that like preceding governments, the Narendra Modi government has taken a strong position against cross-border terror. It has also gone a step forward in determining that unless there are costs inflicted on Pakistan for its continued support to terrorists, the incentive structure for Pakistan’s military-intelligence complex — which protect these groups — won’t change. This has taken the form of aggressive Indian diplomacy at the Financial Action Task Force, a military response to terror attacks, cutting off official dialogue with Islamabad unless it shows tangible action in terms of cracking down on terror, putting the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (Saarc) in deep freeze and evolving regional mechanisms which don’t include Pakistan, and continued international mobilisation against Islamabad-Rawalpindi’s dubious ways. Coupled with more effective internal security mechanisms, this has had the impact of forcing Pakistan to think hard before it engages in its adventurism.
At the same time, the Pulwama-Balakot episode showed the danger of both sides stepping on to an escalatory spiral, with unpredictable consequences. India may have conventional military superiority and has done well in calling Pakistan’s nuclear bluff. But, at a time when India faces a threat from China, and the situation in Kashmir remains fragile, this strategy must be used in a calibrated manner. It is also important to recognise the heterogeneity within Pakistan, and perhaps have a form of back-channel dialogue mechanism to ensure that events don’t spiral out of control. Responding to terror is essential; ensuring this response is smart and proportionate remains equally important.