As the news of development on Kartarpur Corridor inches ahead, overtaking the seething tempers, there appear a new strategic balance developing between nuclear-armed India and Pakistan and the politics in the region. What is the harbinger of this change?

One thing’s for sure: Balakote Bombings has been a path-breaking paradigm shift on India’s self-imposed restriction (Kargil for instance) not to cross LoC by the IAF. The myth has been broken once and for all. Surprisingly none of the Generals or Politicians of Pakistan reacted in the manner as expected of them by issuing threats of Nuclear Blackmail immediately after Balakote. In a retaliatory strike also, Pakistan chose to offload their ordnance off targets on the LoC and got out lucky by just losing an F 16 and capturing an Indian Pilot. India’s declaration on the use of IAF for Non-Military Strikes has paid off fully by raising the threshold of nuclear blackmail to at least one notch up to this level. Earlier it was much below. Next time the IAF crosses the border for similar missions, Pakistan cannot retaliate on Indian military targets as it will be blamed for escalation. World’s endorsement of Indian Right of Self Defence, openly endorsed by the USA and acknowledged by others is acceptance of newly changed politico-military situation between the two hostile nuclear neighbors. Chinese assertion that it does not recognize India and Pakistan as the Nuclear States further strengthens this impression that China is comfortable as long as military power is used against nonmilitary objectives. Domestically also, it compels the future Indian governments to tackle a similar future crisis in a similar manner, for fear of seeming weak. And a future Pakistani government will not have any choice but to respond to any such retaliatory action by India in the same manner, for exactly the same reason.

Previously, the costs for Pakistan using terror against India were minimal. Now, this low-cost option has become a high-cost option. Balakote Operations have increased costs for Pakistani terror adventurism. Earlier Pakistan could let loose some terrorists in India’s direction… if anything went wrong, only the terrorists died, while the Pakistani Army remained unscathed. Now, at the very least, there is a cost in terms of national prestige that Pakistan can expect to suffer… and if it goes too far, it’s now conceivable that India might not limit itself to terrorist training camps next time. Balakote Strikes have signaled that, if Pakistan pursues its policy of bleeding India, it will have to live in constant fear of retaliation by India. A heightened state of military readiness will cripple Pakistan’s economy.

Pakistan’s Lt Gen Khalid Kidwai had articulated, in 2001, that four vague red lines seemed to threaten a Pakistani nuke only in response to Indian actions that Pakistan judged as threatening its very survival; Pakistani military since then has been suggesting that any Indian action across the LoC would invite a nuclear response. But that has not happened post-Balakote.

The threat that had curtailed Indian actions in Kargil – but after Balakote, this bluff has now been finally called.

This represents an unmistakable increase in the threshold of Nuclear Blackmail by Pakistan.

No Room for Rejoicing

Some may argue that India and Pakistan are now closer in the ladder to nuclear war; therefore, instability has increased. For them, it may suffice to say that Pakistan’s stated red lines of the nuclear ladder are deliberately kept vague, to force India to err on the side of caution. Now with Balakote strikes, India has comfortably crossed one red line of the ladder throwing off the caution to wind. However, Policy Makers must also remember that, with one bluff called, there may be the temptation to call other perceived bluffs in the future, increasing the risk of accidentally actually triggering Pakistan’s red lines. Indeed the ladder has to be climbed with a lot of caution and deliberation without rejoicing.

06 Mar 2019/ Wednesday                                                        Written by Azadazraq