2:30 am, 29 September, 2016. Note down the time and date for posterity. It is a tipping point in India-Pakistan history.
On this day, dismantling decades of status-quo, India made a gambit that may change the dynamics of the way both India and Pakistan treat cross-border terrorism.
In the opening hours of Thursday morning, Indian guns rained on the historic town of Bhimber and Kel sector in PoK to kill jihadists before they could enter India through the LoC.
According to India's director general of military operations (DGMO), India conducted "surgical strikes" to inflict heavy damage on terrorists gathered at their launch pads behind the LoC. Though he refused to share details of the operation, the DGMO said jihadists and their supporters were destroyed before they could enter India and strike in Kashmir and other Indian cities.
Bhimber and Kel run from south to north on the LoC. Bhimber is just a few kilometres away from the Pakistani city Mirpur. Kel is a few hours' drive from Muzaffarabad, the capital of PoK. The DGMO's statement reveals Indian forces make a quick dash across the LoC, targetted the jihadists and their benefactors (read Pakistani rangers and army) and returned to their bases after completing the operation.
India's gambit dismantles the status quo that has existed since Pakistan started sponsoring cross-border terrorism. For the first time, India has eschewed restraint (even if such strikes were carried out in the past, they were kept secret) and declared its intention of pre-emptive action against terrorists, even if it implies crossing the LoC. It is now up to Pakistan to respond to the Indian challenge.
Defending itself against enemy action is India's right, especially when warnings and diplomacy fail to have the desired impact. To India's credit, the country's civil and political leadership has exercised restraint in defending itself.
The DGMO said India had no intentions of carrying on the operation after its strategic objective — that of thwarting a terror attack — was met. He said India has spoken to Pakistan's DGMO of its operation and apprised it of its desire to not escalate it further. But, he said, India is ready for any eventuality.
The Indian operations show that we scored on several fronts. First, we had timely intelligence on the imminent infiltration. Two, India had the capability to carry out the strike with negligible costs and the desired results. These should be warning strikes for jihadists and their supporters.
India has, obviously, acted with great maturity and clarity of purpose. It has conveyed that its action was against terrorists and their sympathisers, carefully avoiding any reference to the Pakistani army or resorting to any war rhetoric. New Delhi has also sought Pakistan's cooperation in ensuring peace in the region.
Pakistan is yet to make contours of its response clear. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has criticised Indian action and warned that its "desire to seek peace should not be construed as weakness." Significantly, its media has downplayed the event, avoiding the term India has preferred — strategic strike. Its leading newspapers said India had opened heavy fire at the LoC, leading to the death of two Pakistani soldiers. So, the signals are still mixed.
Since tension on the LoC mounted following the terror attack on an Indian army camp in Uri, Pakistan has been threatening to escalate any counter strike into a full-blown response. Unlike India, since it has not given up its right-to-first-use, Islamabad has stated in clear terms that it will keep the nuclear option open. Now that India has acted, it is for Pakistan to decide its response.
As far as India is concerned, it is very clear that New Delhi will not sit back and wait for terrorists to be launched across the border from Pakistan. But, in doing so it will act with restraint, maturity and pursue means that avoid escalation. Sharif and his government can either accept the new reality or, in a fit of madness, overreact and invite more destruction and instability.
Over to Pakistan for its next move.