11 days after Uri, India conducted surgical strikes; 11 days after Pulwama, guns are silent, and for good reasons

  • There could be many reasons why the military action which Modi presumably has been talking about, is yet forthcoming

  • It’s likely that the government has by now discarded the option of war and decided to do nothing — or is planning something big

  • Or, Modi may want to confuse Pakistan about his intentions by talking about action and yet doing nothing

  • India may have already done enough by eliminating key perpetrators in the ongoing encounters in Kashmir

  • Or, India is taking time to ponder before it strikes Pakistan — if it does — which may explain the silence of guns

Is anybody counting? Not how many days have passed since the Pulwama attack, but how often has Prime Minister Narendra Modi, with teeth grinding and eyes flashing fire, has vowed since then to teach terrorists a nasty lesson. At the cost of sounding like a stuck record, he once again said, this time in the last episode of his Mann ki Baat sermon on Sunday, that India would avenge the Pulwama attack.

It was 11 days after the Uri attack in September 2016 that India retaliated with surgical strikes on militants’ launch pads in Pakistan. Today, it’s 11 days since a suicide attacker drove a car packed with explosives into a truck and killed 40 CRPF personnel in Pulwama in Jammu and Kashmir. But no action, of the military kind which Modi presumably has been talking about, is yet forthcoming.

 11 days after Uri, India conducted surgical strikes; 11 days after Pulwama, guns are silent, and for good reasons

File image of Prime Minister Narendra Modi riding in a howitzer. ANI

This could mean one or all of these things:

Risk of revenge

Modi is not a fool. He is not rushing in where angels might fear to tread — in which case, don’t blame him for only talking the talk but not walking the walk. In other words, Modi is probably seeing some sense in the warning of that wise man who once said: if you want to take revenge, dig two graves including one for yourself.

Surgical strikes

The surgical strikes that followed the Uri attack were sp cosmetic in nature — producing neither a strategic nor tactical victory for India — that even Pakistan denied these were carried out. The international opprobrium and domestic anger in India that followed the Pulwama attack (40 killed) are, however, more intense than the reaction to the Uri assault (17 killed). The surgical strikes of the 2016 kind might now be considered too little by angry Indians and too late by military strategists. It’s likely that the government has by now discarded the option of war and decided to do nothing — or is planning something big. Hence the delay?

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Hunt down Azhar

But the popular expectation is for something big. Some find it hard to imagine that no further action — big or small — is on the cards and believe that doing nothing is not an option for Modi with public indignation so high and elections so near. It’s a different matter, however, whether, or, to what extent, this will influence the Lok Sabha poll outcome. Any high-profile action from the government could include, among other things, a series of surgical strikes instead of just one round of them like in 2016. Or, it could be the hunting down and elimination of the likes of Masood Azhar, the kingpin of Jaish-e-Mohammad, the Pakistan-based terror outfit that has owned up the Pulwama attack. Getting Azhar may take time. The Americans took ten years to find and kill Osama bin Laden after 9/11. Is that why nothing seems to be cooking now?

Job already done?

Or, Modi perhaps believes that India has already done enough by way of retribution by ferreting out and eliminating key perpetrators in the ongoing encounters in Kashmir. He might add to that: 1) India scrapping the Most Favoured Nation (MFN) status to Pakistan, however ridiculously inconsequential that may be, 2) the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), the international terror-financing watchdog, putting Pakistan on notice, and 3) getting China to become a party, even if grudgingly, to a UN Security Council statement that denounced the attack in no uncertain terms, even if these terms didn’t include the word Pakistan.

Backroom talks

Or, maybe some backroom manoeuvres are going on — not everything can be or needs to be telecast live — by countries including the US to persuade India not to precipitate matters. And India is, perhaps, trying to leverage this to squeeze out of countries that matter to take punitive measures against Pakistan that are tougher than before. As is well known, international pressure pulled India from the brink of war after similar attacks in the past, but with assurances from mediating countries and Pakistan forgotten soon afterwards.

Confusing Pakistan

Another reason why India is holding fire could be a tactical one. Does Modi, by talking about teaching a lesson to terrorists ad nauseam, every time he gets on a podium somewhere or the other in the country and yet doing nothing about it, want to confuse Pakistan about his intentions? It’s a trick as old as the planet. “The whole secret lies in confusing the enemy so that he cannot fathom our real intent,” the 5th Century BC Chinese military strategist Sun Tzu said in The Art of War.

Or, Modi is confused

Or is it Modi, or, in particular, the decision-makers in armed forces whom he had given a free-hand, who are confused? About when, where and how to strike Pakistan?

All of this is in the realm of speculation but none of it can be ruled out. The trickiest of all these is the scenario of an India that is confused and undecided about what it should do to tame its dysfunctional neighbour whose contempt for international rule of law is only matched by its propensity for terror.

Enough has been said about the military options available to India, in addition to the economic ones, to tame Pakistan. There isn’t much disagreement on the need for — and the range of — economic measures that must be clamped on Pakistan which has already brought itself to financial ruin by spending a disproportionate part of its resources on arming its military and terror gangs.

But it’s on the use of force that there is a divergence of opinion; not only on what kind of action is needed but also whether it’s needed in the first place. The obvious sticking point is the risk of any Indian action escalating into a full-scale war and then leading to a nuclear conflict. This also depends on whether Pakistan wants an escalation of the conflict.

The question that arises then is: Is Pakistan provoking India into a war? Independent analyses are hard to find in Pakistan’s media, which, already badly hit by the current economic crunch, is at the mercy of government advertisements. But a comment on an Indian channel by Husain Haqqani, former Pakistan ambassador to the US and author of several books, that his country’s rulers might be unwilling to risk a war is significant.

Despite the bluster by Pakistan prime minister Imran Khan and that country’s army chief Qamar Javed Bajwa, it seems to make little sense for Pakistan to favour war with India which they have a good chance of losing.

And whatever is the worth of his word, former Pakistan president General Pervez Musharraf doesn’t see the prospects of his country launching a nuclear attack on India.

Evidently, India has plenty to ponder before it strikes Pakistan — if it does. That should explain the silence of the guns.

The author tweets@sprasadindia

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Updated Date: Feb 26, 2019 09:52:34 IST