The Line of Control (LoC) will no longer be sacrosanct for India if Pakistan continues to export terrorists. This was indicated by India to Pakistan after the September 29 surgical strikes which took Indian troops into Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir (POK) to strike against terrorist launch pads , top-level sources in the government said.
India’s current stand is different from that of 1999. The Kargil conflict compelled Pakistan to respect the LoC as inviolable. After Pakistan tried to redraw the line with its Kargil intrusion and was forced back, then US president Bill Clinton said that borders should not be redrawn in blood.
But recently, Pakistan’s relentless export of terrorists across the LoC has been a breach of that understanding. New Delhi is indicating that India too reserves the right to breach the LoC in pursuit of terrorists, even pre-emptively. It was cemented with former president Pervez Musharraf’s January 6, 2004 commitment not to allow terrorists to use territory under Pakistani control for attacks against India. The strikes were intended to ensure that terrorists in their launch pads across the LoC, watched over by the Pakistan army, would no longer feel comfortable. That was the immediate aim.
The longer term aim was to signal to Pakistan that it would have to adjust to a ‘new normal’ — the ‘new’ was established last week, the ‘normal’ will have to be built up over time. Pakistan will now have to factor in a possible Indian response, where surprise and speed will be the key, and unpredictability the usual, where the LoC will matter less and less. For instance, Pakistan did expect an Indian response after the Uri attack and had beefed up certain key posts. India chose other posts to attack, and that made the difference.
In the past few years, Pakistan controlled the threshold — its nuclear status — and everything below that threshold was fair game. This ranged from small strikes to big ones in Mumbai (2006 and 2008). Every time, India fulminated but never went beyond a diplomatic response, creating the terror-talks cycle that has been the norm for the past decade and more. Both India and Pakistan had settled down into this cycle, India’s helplessness deepening.
That, government sources indicated, has changed. As India improves its defensive capabilities, it plans to increasingly take pre-emptive action against terror. For Pakistan, this means it will now have to factor in an Indian reaction. This will raise costs and vulnerability. “We have made our threshold a variable. We have inserted a new element of uncertainty,” a source said.
Pakistan has unleashed the first burst of anger on the LoC with an almost unrelenting stream of infiltration attempts and cover fire by its army. On Friday night, there were three infiltration attempts in Handwara in J&K. In their conversation last week Pakistani NSA Nasir Janjua talked “de-escalation” with Ajit Doval , but at the top levels of the Indian government, there is a growing belief that Pakistan could retaliate with a terror attack in the coming weeks.
India will watch out for two things -whether Pakistan will cross the Uri threshold or will it stay in a low-flight zone of continuous low intensity attacks, true to the death-by-thousand-cuts strategy .
Another key development the Indian side will watch out for is whether Pakistan army chief Raheel Sharif stays on after November or retires. According to the Indian assessment, if the Pakistani general’s term is extended, it would signal that Pakistan is preparing for a sustained military conflict with India.