Popular burger chain BurgerSingh yesterday came out with a discount code fpak20, ‘in the light of the surgical strikes by Indian defence forces on terrorist camps (POK)’. And while the connotation of ‘fpak’ is anybody’s guess (and in slightly poor taste), New Delhi's response to the recent Uri attack is befitting and righteous.
Never before in the history of successive governments at the centre has India responded to Pakistani transgressions in a more bolder stance. And the beauty of this move is entrenched in the way it has been portrayed. Not only did New Delhi not eschew the strategic restraint it has practiced against Pakistan in an almost religious fashion, but it went ahead and pre-empted a potential terrorist strike against the country. This is not vengeance, just the government doing its job. Of course, that depends on whose perception is being quoted. For New Delhi, calling this raid a 'surgical strike against terrorist launch pads' has enabled it to both meet its objectives and claim cred, without stepping on the toes of the Pakistani military establishment. Individually briefing different heads and representatives of various countries, going as far as to even calling the DGMO of the Pakistani Army, was a masterstroke tact on the Modi Administration's part.
It may be true that the current government has been under tremendous pressure building up over all the public resentment for every cross-border incident that has occurred since Narendra Modi stepped in to office, but this move has certainly quenched the Indian public’s thirst to send a strong message to its neighbour. Support has been outpouring from every corner of the country since yesterday, with the social media raining praises on the Indian Army. In fact, in a rare occurrence, almost all the major political parties across the nation's political spectrum have shown solidarity with the centre’s decision, and stand behind it.
While the nation rejoices in this hard-hitting approach taken up by the centre, the Modi Administration is not yet done with its offensive. On the diplomatic front, New Delhi has already informed the SAARC council of its intention to not attend the upcoming regional summit in Islamabad. A cabinet meeting is already in the works, to assess the case for stripping off the Most Favoured Nation status awarded to Pakistan in 1996. And India is seriously contemplating tightening its grip on the Indus Treaty, to reduce Pakistan’s quota of water received. There are even talks for hosting a massive naval exercise off the western coast of India in the Arabian Sea, which is Pakistan’s only sea trade route.
In fact, after India’s decision to give the upcoming SAARC summit in Islamabad a miss, Bangladesh, Bhutan and Afghanistan have followed suit. And while Thimphu and Kabul omitted pointing fingers at anyone for their reasons to skip the regional meeting, Dhaka made a veiled reference to Pakistan when it said a 'certain country’s’ interference in its internal matters made the point of regional cooperation moot.
As far as the MFN status is concerned, the case for Pakistan has always been an hornoury one, and not so much trade as such. The Indo-Pakistan bilateral commerce is pegged at a meagre USD2 billion. Taking away the MFN status may pinch both the economies slightly, but they can easily bounce back.
The Indus Treaty is a 56-year old accord which formalises a water sharing mechanism between the two nations. India has never quite developed the infrastructure capacity in the conflict ridden region to actually utilise its complete share of the water, whereas this is a crucial lifeline for Pakistan’s agrarian society, more than 80% of which depends on these rivers, plus the surplus from India’s share for smooth running. Should New Delhi decide to play this card, the consequences could be devastating for an already fragile economy.
Although the global community has asked both the nations to practice restraint and keep an open communication channel to deter any escalation of tensions, most nations seem to have agreed in principle with India’s actions. While the US National Security Advisor, Susan Rice spoke to her Indian counterpart privately and assured him of putting its weight behind New Delhi in this case, Dhaka has publicly asserted that the decision taken by India is ‘justified’.
In fact, nobody seems to have anything to comment on New Delhi’s brazen change of tactics, not even China, which usually takes a pro-Islamabad stance on such issues. However, this may be due in part because of Pakistan’s refusal to accept any such operation having been executed in the first place.
The proverbial ball is now in Islamabad’s court, and everybody is waiting to watch how Nawaz Sharif placates the domestic uproar over this military move. For its part, New Delhi has assuaged the general public that all counter-retaliatory measures are being put in place. But the question begs to be asked if India has, finally, called Pakistan’s bluff for good.