I can understand the desire to hit back. After all, how often can you turn the other cheek if your assailant keeps striking you? There comes a moment when you have to act or lose your self-respect. A majority of Indians believe we’ve reached that point.
Alas, just as you feel you know what to do and a ray of sunlight is discernible a fresh set of problems can cloud your horizon. At this moment of apparent clarity such doubts can be truly troubling. Unfortunately, this is the situation we now face.
The problem is any retaliation won’t be risk-free. First, Pakistan won’t take it on the chin. It will respond and the Pakistan army is in many respects as good a fighting machine as ours. Could that lead to more action from our side? The danger of escalation is inherent and, perhaps, unavoidable. That has to be borne in mind.
Second, any Indian action will happen at a time when the Valley is disturbed and the sentiment of the population may not support the actions of our army. With loyalties in doubt, the army won’t have the hinterland behind it but, possibly, against it. That also has to be factored in.
Third, there’s a definite Chinese presence in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir and, by some accounts, even Chinese soldiers. Does this mean China might get involved? We don’t know but, again, the possibility cannot be simply, or safely, ruled out.
Now, against this background, what are the available options if we want to respond militarily? Clearly the two-year-old policy of enhanced artillery and heavy mortar firing across the LoC, to target Pakistani pickets which facilitate infiltration, did not prevent Pathankot or Uri and, so, something more is needed. I presume that means we need to cross the LoC. Could this be cross-border hot-pursuit? Or surgically-targeted air-strikes? I trust no one is contemplating anything more.
However, if we send soldiers or planes across the LoC, it’s not just retaliation we will invite. We could also suffer loses. Israel may be able to tackle Palestinian terror with impunity but that’s a different story. Pakistan is not Hamas. Indeed, we aren’t Israel.
Ultimately, the key question is simple and blunt: Can we retaliate, cater for a Pakistani response and, if need be, go one step further but ensure matters stop firmly short of war?
This question must be agonising the prime minister. If we enjoyed overwhelming superiority over the Pakistan army, its resources and its equipment Narendra Modi could arrive at a swift and, even, easy answer. But we don’t. Hence, the agony of the head that wears the crown.
I hope the prime minister takes his time. Neither is an immediate response necessary nor would it be wise. It needs to be calculated carefully, prepared for diligently and executed immaculately. Finally, if and when we are to act it would be wise to add the element of surprise. Revenge is — and always will be — a dish best served cold.
Meanwhile, it would help if fiery retired generals anxious to exhibit their anger on febrile television discussions would cool it. Similarly, let our khadi-wearing political warriors stop rattling their verbal sabres on twitter. Mature countries act. They don’t boast. Hot air doesn’t add inches to your chest nor does it make you look tall.
The prime minister has a tough enough job deciding what to do. Let’s not add to his problem by piling on unnecessary and thoughtless pressure.
The views expressed are personal.