India shatters all stereotypes
A significant lowering of India’s threshold to terrorist attacks is what the aftermath of Pulwama thus represents in strategic terms. This lowering has not taken place overnight. In the preceding two
decades, every government, regardless of its political color, has sincerely sought to de-securitize a deeply troubled bilateral relationship with Pakistan. Acts of terrorism have been the one factor disrupting each attempt.
A year after Balakot, it is definitely clear that Pakistan’s options have reduced; India has more room for maneuver. From 1989 onwards, Pakistan pursued a hybrid war
as the core of its strategy. Pakistan’s intent was the long-term emasculation of New Delhi’s policy on J&K and an attempt to embarrass India by internationalizing the issue — the Simla Agreement’s provision of bilateralism was never
respected by Islamabad and Rawalpindi. From 1998 onwards, when both nations became overtly nuclear-armed, Pakistan becomes bolder — Kargil 1999 and the attack on Parliament in 2001 seemed to be based on the assumption that the nuclear overhang had closed
the window for an effective conventional Indian response. Perhaps the decision not to cross the LoC in 1999, and the long standoff of 2002 (Operation Parakram) appeared to substantiate India’s reluctance. Seven years later, the Mumbai terror attack,
too, made Indian reluctance to execute hot pursuit more evident.
The nature of the proxy, the hybrid conflict started to change from 2013 onwards
when a generational transition was apparent. In addition, there was a sudden change in the stance of the Indian government in mid-2015. The deep state has never been comfortable with talks and did not support Nawaz Sharif. In 2016, it conducted the Pathankot
attack in India’s hinterland, and in September that year, the Uri attack close to the LoC. The year ended with the Nagrota terror attack.
year 2016 turned out to be decisive and saw a change in the nature and dynamics of hybrid conflict in J&K. The Indian government responded in a graduated way — activity at the LoC increased, followed by the surgical strikes in September 2016 post
the Uri attack. The strikes were essentially experimental but provided sufficient inputs to strategize beyond just the tactical level. The perception of a lack of Indian response below the nuclear threshold was effectively breached. The new Indian strategy
from 2017 surprised Pakistan. It took some time for Pakistan to realise how subtly this change had taken place, even as the Indian Army went on the kinetic offensive re-adopting some of its practices from the Nineties.
By the end of 2018, Pakistan was already on the grey list of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF). The Indian National Investigation Agency (NIA) was succeeding in dismantling financial
networks and the separatists had become increasingly irrelevant. The Balakot-type response 12 days later was unexpected but
demonstrated political will, military escalation control, and a willingness to engage internationally to neutralize Pakistani propaganda. The international support that Balakot garnered, the run of military success against terrorist cadres post-Pulwama-Balakot
and the added political stability at the Centre gave the Indian government the confidence to execute long-awaited political initiatives.