The optimum Indian military response to the Jaish-e-Mohammed’s attack on Indian security forces at Pulwama would be one that falls between two thresholds: high enough to impose costs on the Pakistani military-jihadi complex, but not so high that it would escalate to a higher level of conflict. The Narendra Modi government’s use of air power to strike at the Jaish-e-Mohammed infrastructure in Balakot Tuesday satisfies the first of these conditions. It remains to be seen if it satisfies the second too.
Meanwhile, the IAF strikes that took out targets 80km across the Line of Control put paid to the Pakistani argument that thanks to its nuclear arsenal, India didn’t really have a feasible military option against its proxy war through militants and terrorists.
Some analysts — the late K. Subrahmanyam among them — have countered this, pointing out that there is room for India to use conventional forces to punish sub-conventional attacks by Pakistan. This, however, was not put to test, for India’s political leaders from Atal Bihari Vajpayee to Manmohan Singh calculated that a restraint was a better option. It would be wrong to attribute that policy of restraint to pusillanimity: rather, it was based on the previous governments’ political appreciation of both India’s domestic economic situation and the international environment.