Given the repeated acts of terror sponsored by Pakistan, India seems to be following a well thought out strategy of retaliation. Though there was a clamour for military action after the Uri attack, partly in response to the BJP’s pre-poll talk of the need for a more muscular government, the government chose to play it safely, though ratcheting up the temperature a bit at a time. Prime minister Narendra Modi addressed his first comments after Uri at the Pakistani people and spoke of the failure of the government, and an all-out attempt was made to isolate Pakistan diplomatically—apart from external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj’s speech at the United Nations, most of the Saarc countries cooperated to pull out of the Islamabad summit that was to happen in November. Simultaneously, the government talked of not walking out of the Indus waters treaty—which could have attracted international opprobrium and encouraged China to do the same with water coming into India—but of better utilisation of the one-fifth-share of the Western rivers of the Indus river system that the treaty allowed it, by using it for irrigation as well as by building dams. Even earlier, in his Independence Day address, Modi brought up the issue of Balochistan innocuously, indicating India’s ability to encourage trouble against Pakistan—exiled Baloch leader Brahumdagh Bugti, meanwhile, is in advanced talks to get political asylum in India.
Thursday morning’s surgical strike over six hours at seven terrorist camps, as the Indian army pointed out during the briefing by Lieutenant General Ranbir Singh, India’s director general of military operations, was based on specific intelligence—‘hot pursuit’ of terrorists or taking pre-emptive action against a likely attack is legitimate under international law, and it is important to keep in mind the strike was not against the Pakistan army but against terrorists; the operations were not in Pakistan but were across the Line of Control in that part of Kashmir that is occupied by Pakistan.
That said, the government has done well not to chest-thump—the army briefing was factual and the all-party meeting wasn’t followed by loud statements on how Pakistan had been taught a lesson. Though Pakistan’s first reaction was to deny there was any surgical strike—later, this converted into a promise to retaliate—it will be hard-pressed to explain the presence of soldiers in terrorist camps; most expect not just more action across the Line of Control but perhaps even activation of sleeper cells in Kashmir. While India has taken the precaution of moving additional troops to the border and evacuating villages close to the border, its action over the next few days has to remain focused on increasing the diplomatic pressure on Pakistan.