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Difficult Choice

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The much awaited strike came in response to the Pulwama attack by Pakistan backed terrorists. The most important aspect of the IAF bombing of Balakot is that it has broken the myth that India will retaliate only within the confines of the ‘disputed’ area of Kashmir. The action basically challenges the nuclear umbrella that the Pakistani state provides its terrorist cohorts. The argument generally has been that a conventional response to Pakistan’s covert aggression could escalate to the point of war and, ultimately, nuclear weapons being used. As such, it is not time to gloat over the strike, however effective it may have been, but to prepare and plan for Pakistan’s possible responses. As in the case of the Uri ‘surgical strike’, Pakistan’s first response has been of denial. ‘The Indian aircraft barely entered Pakistan air-space, hurriedly released their payload and scurried out even as PAF aircraft scrambled to respond,’ is the narrative. Also, that nobody was killed. As analysts have already pointed out, this gives Pakistan the space to not act as it has promised its citizens over the past many years to do in the case of such aggression from India. But, soon, anger will build up and pressure increase on the Imran Khan government to do something. The options are few and even as it considers its response – its Parliament is expected to hold a joint session to discuss just this – the terrorists may take matters into their own hands, having as they do considerable resources in India. The Pakistani establishment will be hoping that the international community would step in to keep matters from escalating, as it has done so often in the past – mostly by urging restraint upon India, the more responsible of the two countries. However, the United States is no longer inclined to make such interventions. President Trump had warned that ‘India was about to do something big’, but the Pakistanis obviously could not initiate diplomatic action in time. Of course, Pakistan could do the sensible thing by taking corrective action at home against the Army-Jihadi nexus. Prime Minister Imran Khan, even if for the sake of international consumption, could assert supremacy of the civilian government by pretending to curb the Army’s adventurism. The Army, on its part, could seem to accept the diktat ‘unwillingly’ and wait for better days. There is also the possibility of dismantling the Jihadi network, but that is very unlikely. The alternative is that the situation escalates to the point where the unthinkable happens. Nobody could be contemplating that.