If anchors of 24/7 news channels and social media users had their way, India should have by now declared war on Pakistan. They ask that if the US could do it, what stops India. The nation wants to know, is the constant refrain. They can't be blamed, as the nature of political discourse in the past few years has become increasingly shrill when it comes to Pakistan. As prime minister designate, Narendra Modi mustered electoral support across sections of society when he promised to pursue a muscular foreign policy towards Pakistan. His constant jibes at Manmohan Singh government for showing cowardice and lacking courage to respond aggressively to Pakistan support for terror in India won him tremendous political support. "We won't serve them biryani" was a constant reminder of UPA's soft response to Pakistan backed terror.
Today, the Modi government faces a test. In January, when the Pathankot base was attacked, the government sought to differentiate between Pakistan government and non-state actors or terror groups that planned the attack. A team from Pakistan was allowed access to the IAF base to collect evidence against the terror group. Later developments showed that India's outreach had not been reciprocated. Pakistani generals have continued to back and support terror against India and foment unrest in the Kashmir Valley.
How should the Modi government respond to the attack on Uri?
Hawks want a quick military retaliation. But, Pakistan is not Myanmar and India is not the US. Recent army operations to neutralise militant groups along the India-Myanmar border cannot be repeated across the heavily armed Line of Control. Given that Jaish-e-Mohammad or Lashkar-e-Taiba have the patronage of the army and ISI, there are no identified targets that India can attack.
Many of them live in the comfort of safe zones in urban areas. The Indian Army cannot act like US Marines or its Special Forces.
Modi knows that a failure to respond to Uri will have serious political consequences. With Assembly elections to Uttar Pradesh due before March 2017, the government cannot allow the Opposition to make this a talking point. ‘Modi is different from his predecessor/s’ was the theme of the marketing blitzkrieg that was unleashed from 2013 onwards. He was packaged differently.
With the US in election mode, it does not favour any escalation of tensions in South Asia. The Modi government has already been cautioned against raising tensions further. Post-Uri attack though, the US, UK and Canada have openly supported India with a few countries like Russia and France naming Pakistan or Pakistan-based terror groups in their statements. Germany did not mention Pakistan by name, but asked the country to take out terror groups based on its soil.
Two of the five permanent members of UN Security Council (Russia and France) have made strong statements in India’s favour while the US and UK have supported India while not mentioning Pakistan. In the coming weeks India will host leaders of Muslim countries like Iran, Qatar, UAE and Saudi Arabia who will be briefed on Pakistan’s expanding terror footprint.
Diplomatic isolation will be pursued more seriously. As reported by Firstpost, Modi will anyway not travel to Pakistan in November for the Saarc Summit.
What are the options?
1. With the UN General Assembly session in progress, all evidence against Pakistan will be collected and shared with foreign governments. This is something that was announced by the government.
2. Efforts will be made to show the world that other than China, no country supports Pakistan. China is an all-weather friend of Pakistan, but it is expected that it would not, beyond a point, like to be seen as the only government that supports Pakistan's adventurism towards India. It knows the security threat its own investment plan in the CPEC corridor faces.
3. Russian support will be sought in isolating Pakistan. Home Minister Rajnath Singh was expected to share information and evidence of Pakistani connivance in terrorist acts on his now-postponed visit.
4. After making a strong case against Pakistan at the G-20 and India-Asean summits, India will try and muster support against Islamabad at the Brics summit in Goa in the coming weeks.
5. Visas to Pakistanis will be curtailed. All those except travellers coming for medical treatment shall face restrictions.
Modi knows that a failure to respond to Uri will have serious political consequences
What about a military response?
No action is no more an option. The BJP’s ideological parent, the RSS, is conscious of the political cost of no dramatic response. On its part, the BJP knows that if it stays quiet the electoral campaign of 2014 will come to haunt it in UP and nationally. In three years, Modi will face a re-election in the Lok Sabha polls of 2019. Therefore, statements have been made to keep up the morale of troops and the nation.
However, consultations on options in recent days have again exposed the vulnerability of the army. A shortage of ammunition, lack of preparedness and diversion of troops to retrieve the security situation in South Kashmir makes army operation not so easy. Also, the Pakistan military is on high alert along the Line of Control. Could the use of other arms of the Indian forces be an option? Yes, it is.
Where and when will be decided in the weeks to come. The theatre of action will be different.