India's best opportunity to strike Pakistan was within minutes of the terror attack on Uri. Ideally, strike corps of the Indian Army should have been on the road across LoC much before news of the attack filtered out to the world on Sunday morning.
It is apparent from the noises made by Maleeha Lodhi during a press meet at the United Nations that Pakistan dreads India's 'Cold Start' doctrine. Rejecting the United States advice to Pakistan for curtailing its nuclear programme, Lodhi argued her country can't stop producing nukes till India dumps its 'Cold Start' philosophy.
Obviously, Pakistan is wary of 'Cold Start,' a doctrine that envisages an Indian blitzkrieg across LoC to destroy military installations and occupy enemy territory much before the world could react. It fears the prospect of India using early territorial gains for post-conflict negotiations. (You can read more about Cold Start here.)
Pakistan has, of course, been developing tactical nuclear weapons as a deterrent to 'Cold Start.' It has stockpiled low-yield nukes that could be fired at an advancing Army through its short-range missile Nasr tested in 2011. But, as Christine C Fair points out in a discussion with India Today, firing tactical nukes on Indian strike corps would become difficult if India moves deep enough inside Pakistani territory, making its own population vulnerable.
Unfortunately, now that it is almost three days since the terror attack on Uri, the moment for a shock military attack is gone. There are, of course, several other options India can exercise, provided it has the capability and the political will. But, since it has been gifted the luxury of time and high-decibel war rhetoric by India, Pakistan would be ready with a response, making every military option a high-risk gamble that can easily lead to escalation.
It is evident that Pakistan is getting ready for war with India. On Thursday, its stock markets crashed after Pakistan air force cleared landing strips, motorways and airspace in the north. According to the Dawn, Pakistani warplanes have started flying in its northern skies and practising landing on highways in anticipation of a surgical strike by India.
Clearly, the enemy is now waiting at the gates.
The delay in Indian response could lead to a situation farcically similar to the drama that unfolded after the attack on Indian Parliament in 2001. Back then, Prime Minister, like Narendra Modi, vowed revenge but took too long to put together a strategy.
Though the Indian Army was stationed on the Rajasthan and Punjab border and put on standby, almost three weeks were wasted in just mobilising the troops. By then, Pakistan had got its act together, the US had leaned on the Indian government and the anger in Indian streets had dissipated. A few months later, the Army retreated to its positions deep inside Central India.
Ironically, the Cold Start doctrine was proposed by the Indian Army precisely because of the lessons it learnt from the 2001 fiasco. By placing strike corps close to the LoC, it was assumed that in the future, Indian retribution would be swift and lethal.
But, as the turn of events after Uri shows, 'Cold Start' too has proved a non-starter.
The consternation in the BJP's core constituency is palpable. To coerce Modi into action, some have re-tweeted Modi's pre-poll barbs at his predecessors, some have mocked the famed 56-inch chest and others have just given up on him, arguing the BJP's pre-poll rhetoric was mere jumlebaazi.
For anchors shouting from their TV studios, armchair critics churning out opinion from overseas locations, social media warriors and those worried about the BJP's poll prospects and Modi's image, Indian strike corps should by now have been deep inside Pakistan, dividing it into two parts, liberating Baluchistan and holding a gun to the heads of both the Sharifs — Nawaz and Raheel — to make them sign an instrument of surrender.
But, in spite of grave provocation, both external and domestic, Modi has so far adhered to the principle of discretion being the better part of valour.
Those beating their breasts and berating ''if Modi can't who will', do not get a simple fact: the PM isn't a medieval king who will lead a cavalry to Panipat or Tarain for a dawn-to-dusk war with Pakistan just because he has 280 seats in Parliament. Modi's ability to strike back is contingent on ground realities, the Army's capabilities, assessment of Pakistan's response and calculations of possible gains and losses.
It is evident from India's measured response, ground realities do not favour an immediate military adventure. And, even if it means tolerating nasty barbs, Modi will wait till he knows the time is right.