What to make of India’s surgical strike?

India’s punitive strike across the Line of Control could set a new norm

Whatever might be the consequences, it is clear that the Indian Army’s operation across the Line of Control in retaliation to a militant attack on its Uri camp is a landmark development. Now, it is common knowledge that both the Indian and Pakistani armies cross the LoC for tactical operations, and have been doing so for a long time.

Such operations, usually, have three characteristics: limitations in the depth of incursion, the extent of damage they cause and the level at which they are officially admitted. While we do not have all the details as of now, last night’s operation appears to have been deeper and more damaging. What distinguishes it from other tactical incursions along the LoC is the level at which they have been admitted: perhaps for the first time, New Delhi has officially announced that Indian troops carried out an attack authorised by the highest political authority.

This is significant because it changes the norm to one where India will use military force across its frontiers to respond to aggression by Pakistan’s proxies. Depending on the Pakistani reaction, the act might vindicate the arguments made by some strategists that India does have space for such punitive operations, within the escalation framework. If so, an important Pakistani bluff — that nuclear weapons will shield its terrorist proxies — will be called. [Related: See this detailed analysis of the India-Pakistan conflict escalation framework]

This, however, is only the story so far. The ball now is in Pakistan’s court. If the Pakistani military establishment continues to hold the position that there was no ‘surgical strike’ at all, and just the usual cross-border firing, then New Delhi would have succeeded in setting a new norm. However, if the Pakistani army decides that it cannot let this insult go unpunished, and responds tit-for-tat — operationally and in public posturing — then it will be up to the Modi government whether it wants to up the ante. There are good reasons for either course of action.

The Pakistani army’s initial reaction is what it is, an initial reaction. It could be used to obfuscate matters to cover a retaliatory attack. Or it could be a signal of not wanting to escalate the situation. At this time, therefore, it would be prudent for the Indian government and media to hold off excessive triumphalism.

On Pakistani passports

Cross-border terrorism, directed northwards

The terrorists were travelling on Pakistani passports. They may have been locals, but trained in jihadi training camps across the border. The mastermind is suspected to be a Pakistani national. The plan was to bring down an commercial airliner flying from the restive separatist region to the national capital by igniting gasoline hidden in soft-drink cans.

Sounds familiar? Well, this is the story of China Southern Airlines flight CZ6901 from Urumqi in Xinjiang to Beijing. The two terrorists on flight were arrested when they failed to set the bombs off, and were overpowered by the crew. And according to some reports the Pakistani national who masterminded this plot is at large. According to others, the third was arrested in a week and has confessed to the crime.

China has not officially revealed the link to Pakistan, perhaps not to unnecessarily embarrass its ally in public. It does not need to. General Musharraf is perhaps already sweating. A crackdown against jihadis is on the cards. It’s not as if Pakistan’s new prime minister needed this.

Related Link: A Chinese journalist’s account of eyewitness accounts and censorship. (via Violent Eclipse)