One of the key takeaways of the 29 September surgical strikes — quite apart from the mythical ones in popular imagination — was the element of unpredictability in Indian response when faced with Pakistan-sponsored terror. Narendra Modi government's public owning of a covert operation across the LoC showed that India is no longer willing to suffer in silence and would henceforth raise the cost of Pakistani misadventure while staying, as far as possible, within the limits of strategic restraint against a nuclear-armed neighbour.
The pushback may vary in scope and scale but India hoped that breaking of the template may act as some sort of a deterrent against the terror-exporting nation. If this was the major takeaway, there was one more equally important one. In a strategic manoeuvre, the strikes put the onus of resuming normalcy squarely on Pakistan. Modi added sinew and bone to an old Indian stance: if you want talks, stop terror.
But there is a problem. Instead of being conducted over fine wines at plush venues, diplomacy between the two south Asian neighbours often boils down to brinkmanship across the border. The reason why India has consistently failed to develop a coherent Pakistan policy is that Islamabad (or more correctly, Rawalpindi) never plays by rules. It has grown so used to cashing in on its delinquent status that it sincerely believes the fallacy that more of being a rogue nation will help it achieve objectives that conventional diplomacy won't.
What are those objectives? If India — which has historically bore the brunt of renewing talks initiative despite Pakistan's thousand betrayals — suddenly finds suspended talks quite a comfortable status quo, the onus lies on Islamabad to start the process and bring its "unfinished business", Kashmir, again to the table.
There would be two broad reasons why Pakistan, at this point, is more interested in talks than India. One, it must be feeling a compelling need to yank India out of the sweet spot post surgical strikes. The Rawalpindi GHQ would have calculated that letting India get away with the strikes (despite a public denial) is tantamount to defeat. Therefore, it must force India to kickstart the talks process. Two, suspension puts Kashmir out of the limelight. Since the issue is central to Pakistan's own existence, it cannot simply let that happen.
But how does it coax India back at the table? Islamabad has been shedding tears over Kashmir for a considerable amount of time in every global forum and calling for UN intervention without any tangible benefits. Its perfidies are finally catching up. Recently, it even sent 22 diplomats far and wide across the world in a failed strategic move. In absence of international pressure on India, it has precious few levers left. Moreover, the genie of terror its army and the deep state has nurtured for so long cannot be bottled back at the snap of a finger. It is impossible for Pakistan, therefore, to meet the Indian condition for talks.
Under the circumstances, Pakistan seems to have decided that the only way to force India into resuming "talks" would be to massively violate the ceasefire and target civilians so that India bows to domestic political pressure. The strategy is also based on a calculation that the civil administration in India is more amenable to political pressure than in Pakistan where an unaccountable, unelected army controls all the levers of power.
Therefore, as PTI reports, we find Pakistani troops on Tuesday targeting civilians in a massive escalation at the border, resulting in the deaths of eight people including two children and four women. The firing, which included usage of small arms and also heavy calibre weapons like 120mm and 82mm mortar bombs, also injured 22 people including an 18-month-old infant. The assault prompted a ferocious retaliation from BSF which claimed to have destroyed 14 Pakistani posts.
The areas targeted, according to another PTI report, were hamlets and military posts in Samba, Jammu, Poonch and Rajouri districts along the International Border (IB) and the Line of Control (LoC) in Jammu and Kashmir.
Pakistani forces are firing heavy mortars deliberately towards Indian civilian areas, says BSF IG D K Upadhyay.
— Press Trust of India (@PTI_News) November 2, 2016
Crucially, Pakistan's strategy of killing Indian civilians and building domestic political pressure on the government seems to be working.
In a separate report, PTI quoted Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Mehbooba Mufti expressing "deep anguish" and "grave concern" over the loss of human lives and destruction of property. According to Mufti, the only way to deal with the "prevailing disturbing situation" is to keep reminding both India and Pakistan of the inevitability of talks. "India and Pakistan must open the channels of communication, at the earliest, realising the dangerous consequences of any escalation of ongoing confrontation along the borders," she said in the report.
Opposition leaders in the state led by National Conference leaders and ex-CMs Farooq Abdullah and son Omar have also expressed similar sentiments.
If this is one part of the story, the other part, still unconnected, lies in the recent disturbing trend in setting Kashmir schools on fire. The inevitability of human desire for normalcy and peace has been held hostage by this renewed acts of arson that serve the dual purpose of maintaining unrest in the Valley and keep Kashmir in the headlines. So far, 26 schools have been set on fire by unidentified arsonists while 174 along the international border in Jammu have been shut by the administration due to increased shelling.
As Bharti Jain writes in Times of India quoting a Jammu and Kashmir police officer, the arsonists who have been captured so far are mostly uneducated and unemployed youth blindly following directions of local separatists. They might be used and funded by agents and the motive may include denying security forces a refuge during harsh winter months and even a shot at radicalisation of youth by preventing modern education.
Crucially, separatist leaders have been quite brazen about defending what is an indefensible and perverted act of setting schools on fire.
Hurriyat Conference head Syed Ali Shah Geelani was quoted in a BBC report as saying: "If the authorities are indeed concerned about education and the future of school children, they should first release all people, particularly students, and withdraw all cases against them to create a conducive and peaceful atmosphere."
For a separatist leadership that has often acted as Pakistani puppets, it doesn't require an Einstein to connect the dots. The question, therefore, for the Indian administration is this: Would it bow before Pakistan's overt and covert manoeuvres and appear again at the talks table?