Year After Surgical Strikes: Change in Rules of Indo-Pakistan Game

A year after surgical strikes: Does the principle of ‘proportional retaliation’ bode well for India and Pakistan?

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Year After Surgical Strikes: Change in Rules of Indo-Pakistan Game

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(As India completes one year since conducting surgical strikes across the Line of Control in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir, The Quint is reposting this piece from its archives. It was first published on 30 September 2016)

The Director-General of Military Operations, Indian Army, Lieutenant General Ranbir Singh’s announcement that India had launched a series of strikes on the night of 28 September against seven different “launch pads” in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) that jihadi terrorists used for attacks across the Line of Control (LoC) has come as a relief.

Especially, no doubt, to the Bharatiya Janata Party government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi that had raised expectations of a disproportionately harsh response to the terrorist strikes on 18 September that resulted in the death of 19 jawans of the Bihar and Dogra regiments, but had stayed its hand until now.


Setting a Precedent for Proportional Retaliation

This is the first time that India has reacted with military action to a terrorist event. It obviously surprised the Pakistan Army’s Inter-Services Intelligence which, based on India’s past record of not responding to even significant political and economic provocations, such as the attack on Parliament on 13 December, 2001, followed seven years later by the attack on the commercial capital, Mumbai on 26 November, 2008, must have assumed that no Indian retaliation would be forthcoming.

Indian soldiers guard outside the army base which was attacked on Sunday by suspected militants at Uri, Kashmir. (Photo: AP)

This may be deduced from the large number of jihadi fatalities, as many as 70-odd if the Indian army’s estimate of each pad having ten terrorists and two ISI minders holds up. Had the Pakistan Army anticipated these counter-strikes they would have been prepared to meet them and engaged in fire-fights and attempted to shoot down the helicopters engaged in lifting the Special Forces to their target sites.

Such retaliation is fully justified both in terms of raising the cost to the Pakistan Army and setting a precedent for proportional retaliation in the future. General Headquarters, Rawalpindi, had so far assumed that their choice of asymmetric warfare was cost free and hence carried on with them without compunction.

India’s response in kind is also condoned by international law under the rubric of “self defence”. Article 51 of the UN Charter, for instance, states clearly that “Nothing in the present Charter shall impair the inherent right of individual or collective self-defence if an armed attack occurs against a Member of the United Nations”.


Modi Govt Shrugging Off Pressure from US to do What’s Right

The ramifications of India’s retaliatory measure, albeit belated, are many. In the main, New Delhi has changed the rules of the game that Pakistan was playing by. India has now asserted its right to punish Pakistan, manifestly a state sponsor of terrorism, for its sustained campaign to destabilise Jammu & Kashmir and keep India unsettled, in a manner that will pass muster with the international community.

The Indian reaction has been localised and keyed to eliminating the threat from only those who posed a terrorist threat to the country.

The other equally significant aspect is that it has proved that the Modi government will shrug off the pressure from friendly Western states with the United States in the lead, that India observe restraint as it has done in the past, and that a non-response accompanied with a lot of “Don’t do it again” warnings and teeth-gnashing by the Indian government would be sufficient to deter Pakistan from again playing the terrorist card.

It did not ever work, but previous Indian governments were too eager to please Washington to do what’s good and right by India. This may be as important a change in India’s foreign policy mindset as the determination to strike at Pakistan — the linchpin of terrorism in southern Asia, whose baleful effects are being felt in ever-widening circles.

And finally, this anti-terrorist action suggests the Modi government has gone over the hump of hesitation and inaction that had marked its attitude after the terrorist jihadi attack on the Indian Air Force base in Pathankot in January this year, and is now resolved hereafter to deal with the LeT and JeM outlaws and their minders as they deserve to be treated — with extreme prejudice.

(Bharat Karnad is a professor in National Security Studies at the Centre for Pol;icy Research, New Delhi, author most recently of Why India is Not a Great Power (Yet), and blogs at This is a personal blog and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

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