A general alert has been sounded across cities in India for a possible terror strike by a group of terrorists from the Lashkar-e-Taiba and the Jaish-e-Mohammed in Pakistan.
That warning originates in an unprecedented move from Pakistan- National Security Advisor Ajit Doval was told about the terrorists entering india by his counterpart, Nasser Khan Janjua.
However, across the border, the Sindh government has warned that "India will try to avenge the Pathankot (the airbase attack) incident" and that the likely target will be a military base.
Pakistan's move is seen as little more than a transparent and cliched attempt to press upon the international community that India is responsible for its share of cross-border attacks.
So are these twin developments pulling the India - Pakistan relationship in different directions at a time of vulnerability?
General Janjua's call to Ajit Doval does not mean that Pakistan has turned a new leaf and wants to be seen as "law-abiding, good boys" according to a government source.
This possibility can be ruled out is the general consensus.
Not withstanding its many denials, it is no secret that Pakistan uses the Lashkar-e- Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed as instruments of state.
Therefore, General Janjua's call to New Delhi is being read as a "mitigating" factor, most likely an effort to gain some acceptance in the international community at a time when Pakistan is negotiating the sale of F-16s from the USA.
It, however, opens a window of opportunity for India. It will be difficult for Pakistan to arm and train terrorist groups, while keeping India informed about when some of them infiltrate Kashmir or other border states. That would mean the Pakistani establishment risks being badly cornered within the country, in particular with the powerful military and ISI.
That leaves us with the alert issued in Pakistan. Is India, in a break from the past, leveraging all its advantages and international support to consider striking back in unconventional ways?
At one level, India has launched a massive diplomatic effort to isolate Pakistan from its old friends and allies especially in the Gulf - something that hasn't been done in the past.
The first family of Saudi Arabia is protected by the Pakistan Army. Besides, there is a strong possibility of Saudi Arabia would lean on Pakistan nuclear capabilities if Iran acquires the nuclear bomb.
In this regard, the rise of the ISIS in Syria and Iraq, and its footprints in Afghanistan and the restive areas along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border present India with a rare opportunity. The first casualties of the ISIS in the Gulf States would be their rulers. Naturally, the Gulf kingdoms are extremely uncomfortable with Pakistan's inability to counter the ISIS or prevent the cadre of Teherik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) from increasingly moving to ISIS. India with its democratic and secular credentials therefore could replace Pakistan for the Gulf States as a go-to ally.
At another level, India has told Pakistan in no uncertain terms that the action of "non- state actors" in India- till recently an easy excuse for Pakistan - is no longer acceptable. And, Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar in the wake of the Pathankot attack did say that those responsible must "feel the pain" - a warning that is not veiled.
The alert in Sindh is perhaps a reflection of this new reality.
Any terror expert will agree that terror attacks happen when three things come together - intent, the capability to strike, and the opportunity. to carry out an attack. The bigger the triangle, the higher the chances of a terror attack.
Over the years, India has improved its counter terror capabilities, thereby reducing the opportunity for terror groups. On the other hand, the new willingness to leverage all advantages will dampen the intent of the Pakistan deep state to carry out an attack, because it is now clear that there will be costs.
In sum, with Pakistan, India is trying to move on to a new track - of speaking softly but carrying a big stick.
(Sudhi Ranjan Sen is NDTV's Editor Security and Strategic Affairs)
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of NDTV and NDTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.
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