India Strikes Back: Where to Now for Pakistan?

30 September 2016 Lindsay Hughes, Research Analyst, Indian Ocean Research Programme

The Indian strikes on militant camps in Pakistan can only further increase already-heightened tensions between the nuclear-armed neighbours, making the current situation extremely volatile.

Background

India has announced that its Special Forces struck at eight “terrorist training camps” or “launch pads” in Pakistan killing several militants. According to one report, the number of casualties runs into “double digits”. India has also stated that its forces did not strike at Pakistani military personnel or camps. Pakistan has officially denied any such strikes took place but that denial is difficult to believe given that a Pakistani minister stated words to the effect that “If India should carry out similar strikes, Pakistan would retaliate.” Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said that two Pakistani border guards had been killed in the strikes.

Comment

India has stated that it had “specific and credible information” that “terrorist units had positioned themselves … with an aim to carry out infiltration and terrorist strikes”. The strikes come in the wake of an attack by, according to Indian sources, armed militants on an army camp in Indian-administered Kashmir on 18 September. India had, in the wake of that strike, sought to isolate Pakistan internationally, including at the United Nations’ General Assembly. Most analysts believed, however, that India’s response options were limited.

The strikes have done several things. First, it is now beyond doubt that India has called Pakistan’s nuclear bluff. Many observers had believed that India would not carry out a cross-border strike on Pakistan as it did earlier against anti-India militants who were based in Myanmar for fear of prompting a nuclear response from Pakistan. Islamabad will undoubtedly be aware that in the time since the Indian military camp was attached mid-September, India would have planned a massive retaliatory response should Pakistan have employed its no-first-use nuclear option. Second, the strikes on Pakistan have demonstrated to Islamabad that the Modi Administration is willing to use force to protect its territory and citizens and is capable of doing so. Third, and arguably most dangerous of all for Pakistan, it is very likely that India will use these strikes to call the world’s attention to the fact that Pakistan was, indeed, complicit in militant strikes in India, even if only by omission rather than commission. India, of course, believes it was the latter. This has the potential to bring about Pakistan’s further isolation. The fact that the United States has chosen to admonish Pakistan for permitting militants to use its territory to carry out strikes against India in the wake of the Indian strikes without publicly remonstrating India demonstrates unequivocally where Washington’s sympathies lie.

It is very likely that having been humiliated by these strikes, which could have the same effect as the US one on Pakistan that killed Osama bin Laden, Islamabad will look for retaliatory measures. Expect to see militant strikes against Indian personnel in Afghanistan and elsewhere in the region, the use of the open Indo-Nepali border to infiltrate militants deeper into India to carry out attacks against Indians and Indian cities that are not usually targets and increased unrest in Kashmir. India will, for its part, increase its efforts to further isolate Pakistan – it has already started blocking Pakistani cultural artists from entering India and proposes to block Pakistan International Airlines flights from its airspace – and become even more engaged in seeing Balochistan break away from Pakistan. This could have major ramifications for Pakistan’s sovereignty, economy and foreign relations. China will now be forced to re-evaluate its energy pipeline and other investments in Pakistan and India will undoubtedly pressure Russia to stop selling military systems to Pakistan.

The next few weeks will definitely bear watching.

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