Going by the several rounds of meetings that Prime Minister Narendra Modi is holding with designated group of officers — civil, intelligence and military — it appears as though he is working on a multipronged strategic option to hurt Pakistan. A day after chairing a meeting to review the Indus Waters Treaty, it was announced that he will be holding a meeting on 29 September to review the 'Most Favoured Nation' (MFN) status given to Pakistan.
It indicates that he is not looking at a knee jerk military response but is weighing all possible options, assessing his own capabilities, weighing them carefully so that the cost of escalation on the Indian side can be minimised, yet the action is effective.
No one can be sure of the timeline of the action proposed, if any, but it looks as though the government is evolving a tiered strategic action plan that will be unveiled one after another in due course.
There is an unflinching faith among the ruling BJP leaders, the party and the government that Modi is working on a sound strategy and will not let Pakistan go "unpunished". Modi's working style has been such that nobody, not even his senior colleagues, get to know till the very end of his actual action plan. These leaders have observed him closely, been with him and have built their belief in him for action and delivery.
This time around the political leadership in the government is not rushing to respond in an ad hoc manner, responding to the popular mood but evolving its strategy based on cold calculations.
After letting his intent known on Indus Waters Treaty that "blood and water can't flow simultaneously" and review of the stalled Tulbul project in north Kashmir, Modi has now decided to hold a meeting on Thursday to review the MFN status granted to Pakistan. Until the Prime Minister chairs that meeting, the officials of the two ministries — External Affairs and Commerce — will go over its various aspects and prepare for the meet.
There is a strong possibility that India will withdraw the MFN status granted unilaterally to Pakistan in 1996 without any reciprocation from Pakistan so far. The MFN status was granted to Pakistan by India under terms of the World Trade Organisation's (WTO) General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT). While both India and Pakistan are signatories to this, which means that the two countries have to treat each other and the rest of WTO member countries as favoured trading partners, but Pakistan has defaulted on that count.
Early last year, Pakistani high commissioner Abdul Basit had said at a conference organised by the Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations that extending MFN status to India would severely harm Pakistan's local economy. Basit argued that growing bilateral trade has hardened India's stance on the issue of Kashmir.
It is probably India's turn to pay back Pakistan on the same terms.
Modi has given all indications that India would find ways to maximise the use of Indus rivers system in due course and choke Pakistan to the extent it can. The tough words stated by Modi in the high level meeting on Monday, attended by the NSA, foreign secretary, water resource secretary and other senior officials concerned, are loaded with ominous implications for Pakistan.
The fact that the meeting of the Indus River Commission, which comprises of commissioners from both sides and meetings are held alternatively in India and Pakistan, which had not been interrupted even during the 1965, 1971 and 1999 wars, is being cancelled for the first time in 56 years. It means that New Delhi has began acting tough.
Modi's words may appear tough to Pakistan, but is actually in spirit of the Indus Waters Treaty signed by then Prime Minter of India Jawaharlal Nehru and President of Pakistan Field Marshal Mohammed Ayub Khan in 1960. The water treaty was signed in spirit of goodwill, friendship and cooperative spirit of the two neighbouring countries.
Read preamble of the treaty: "The Government of India and the Government of Pakistan, being equally desirous of attaining the most complete and satisfactory utilisation of the waters of the Indus system of rivers and recognising the need, therefore, of fixing and delimiting, in a spirit of goodwill and friendship, the rights and obligations of each in relation to the other concerning the use of these waters and of making provision for the settlement, in a cooperative spirit, of all such questions as may hereafter arise in regard to the interpretation or application of the provisions agreed upon herein, have resolved to conclude a Treaty in furtherance of these objectives..."
Former finance and external affairs minister Yashwant Sinha made a very convincing argument in an article published in The Indian Express: "Treaty terms are observed between friends, not enemies. Pakistan is an enemy state of India. It has said so repeatedly. The attacks on our military bases in Pathankot and Uri were not mere terrorist attacks; they were acts of war against the Indian state, sponsored by Pakistan. India will, therefore, be fully justified in abrogating the Indus Waters Treaty with Pakistan."
He further wrote: "We all want peace with Pakistan, but we must remember that sometimes the road to peace passes through war."
Before leaving for Kozhikode on Saturday, Modi had met Army Chief, Air Force Chief and Vice-Admiral of Navy (Naval Chief was not in New Delhi), apparently to know defence preparedness and look at the various possible dimensions involved. Earlier, he had been in the war-room of the Defence Ministry located in South Block.
A senior leader said, "Modi knows what Pathankot and Uri attack mean for the country and his image. Ultimately everyone in the party, Parivar (Sangh), the government and people at large are looking at him in great anticipation as to what he has to do. He is surely going to act tough. It may take some time because he has to weigh all options and can't be simply guided by the overriding sentiments on social media but rest assured that tough action will be coming. Don't think he is any less angry, but as PM he has to act with certain responsibility and we all are sure action will be firm and decisive."