The strike in the early hours of 30 September, by India’s special forces para-commandos on five-sevem launch pads between 0.5 to 4 km across the Line of Control (LoC) inside Pakistan, killing over 38 terrorists and some Pakistan army personnel, was long overdue and a welcome tough riposte by India to the repeated terrorist strikes perpetrated by Pakistan over many years. India’s action came after Prime Minister Narendra Modi made many overtures of friendship to Pakistani leaders and gave indications that India’s patience was running thin. But emboldened by China labelling it as its “only friend and ally” and confident of Beijing’s support, Pakistan ignored these and ramped up its activities in Kashmir.
In the aftermath of the successful strike, Indian officials have been temperate in their statements and careful to emphasise that only terrorists belonging to Pakistan-trained and funded terror outfits like the Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM), Lashkar-e-Tayyaba (LeT) etc., had been targeted as they assembled at launch pads prior to infiltrating into India to attack targets. The strike by the Indian Special Forces was timed to coincide with the major four-day “Exercise Talon” of Indian Air Force’s Western Air Command, which, interestingly, was held for the second time last month. Announcement by India of its carefully planned action across the LoC heralds that a new strategic policy, with far reaching implications, is being put in place.
Viewed from a broader perspective, it is clear that the Indian government is giving shape to a new, bold and confident foreign policy designed to protect India’s territorial sovereignty and further its strategic interests. It is a policy designed for an aspiring major power. An example was India’s thrust for admission to the Nuclear Suppliers’ Group (NSG) in July this year, which signalled that the earlier tentative, diffident policy had been discarded. The recent strike against targets inside Pakistan conveys a multiplicity of messages.
Important among these are that:
(i) India’s policy towards Pakistan has altered in a major way. It will no longer sit back and absorb attacks in a seeming display of incapacity;
(ii) future terrorist attacks will inevitably invite similar, if not stronger, responses with possibly heavier losses for Pakistan;
(iii) the Indian armed forces will act pre-emptively to neutralise imminent threats;
(iv) Pakistan’s bluff has been called and India has demonstrated that it does not believe Pakistan’s oft-repeated bombast that it would use the nuclear option;
(v) implicit is the message that India will not allow the soil of other neighbouring countries to be used for terrorist attacks against India;
(vi) India will not allow Pakistan to dictate policy or meddle in Kashmir;
(vii) it is a message to the US, UK, Russia and China that India is a major factor in the region capable of facilitating or frustrating their respective agendas.
While this military action has boosted public confidence and morale, it is not the only price that Pakistan will have to pay. With his statement from the ramparts of the Red Fort on 15 August 2016, Prime Minister Modi has set in motion a train of events that will put Pakistan under enormous sustained pressure. Balochis, encouraged by India’s support, have already begun staging demonstrations in New York, London, New Delhi and other places as part of their struggle for self-determination and demand for being granted basic human rights. The movement has the potential to grow and make the Balochistan province restive. It could also well trigger latent discontent in the neighbouring Sindh and Pakistan’s tribal areas.
India’s actions and changed policy towards Pakistan can also be expected to begin the process of fashioning an appropriate Kashmir policy. This could be the precursor to strengthening the stand that Kashmir is India’s internal issue, with no space for outside elements. Kashmiri separatist elements will gradually find that they cannot expect substantive support in the form of men, material or finances from Pakistan. The hitherto unrestricted flow of funds from dubious foreign sources could get staunched. A new Kashmir policy will need to take into account China, which has over the years tried to expand its territorial claim over Jammu and Kashmir and establish contact with the separatist pro-Pakistan elements like Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Syed Ali Shah Geelani. Over the past year, China has unambiguously sided with Pakistan on the Kashmir issue and also commenced deploying troops in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) and other areas. As Pakistan grapples with internal problems and domestic secessionist movements, however, Beijing could well take a long pause to re-evaluate its relationship with Pakistan.
Jayadeva Ranadde is a former Additional Secretary, Cabinet Secretariat, Government of India and is President of the Centre for China Analysis and Strategy.