Make no mistake - as the Indian Air Force jets returned after destroying the biggest terror training camp of terror group Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) in Balakot inside Pakistan, a new strategic security doctrine has been unveiled by the Modi government. India and its security establishment have redrawn our red lines and thrown away so-called strategic restraint. The new assertion is this: Pakistan has been stripped of the sham of "non-state actors".
Pulwama, where 44 CRPF jawans died 12 days ago, has been avenged after the Jaish, which is led by Masood Azhar, took ownership of the horrific attack in Pulwama.
This is the first time after the 1971 war that India's fighter jets entered Pakistani territory. During the Kargil War in 1999, then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee had given the Air Force explicit instructions not to cross the Line of Control.
Conventional wisdom among strategic experts the world over is that Pakistan is the only nuclear state which indulges in nuclear blackmail. India has an explicit No First Use policy.
Till now, Pakistan harboured the sanguine belief that India would not broach an aggressive option bordering on conventional war (where we have the edge). India has stressed that the Air Force strike was non-military and pre-emptive to take out terrorists who were planning new suicide attacks in India. Another core belief of the Pakistan security establishment of bleeding India with a thousand cuts using proxies like JeM without the fear of retaliation was also destroyed.
After using the air strike to escalate and deliver the message, Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale's statement was a master class in crisp and clear speak while also portraying India as a mature and responsible country determined to protect its own. Gokhale cogently said that India was careful in ensuring no civilian and military casualties. Hence the "non-military strike".
India has carefully said that the strikes were not meant to target Pakistan but terrorists. This is a huge diplomatic face-saver for Pakistan to ensure that the situation does not escalate in to a war. I have covered national security for 20 years and this term was right up there with our "peaceful nuclear explosion".
Gokhale emphasized that India was carrying out action against terrorists and the Pakistan government had committed in 2004 to act against terrorists on its soil.
The new security doctrine and the never before nature of India's reprisals were welcomed across the board by opposition leaders including Rahul Gandhi, Mamata Banerjee, Arvind Kejriwal and Chandrababu Naidu.
The Pakistan government said that "India had committed uncalled for aggression to which Pakistan would respond to at a time and place of its choosing". But even Pakistan's closet ally China showed tacit support to India by calling for "restraint" from both the countries. Significantly it did not mention the territorial violation of Pakistan. This must have upset Islamabad no end.
Pakistan now has to make the hard choice of trying to make peace with India or indulge in ever-escalating stand-offs. It can no longer get away with farming out its battle to "jihadis" like JeM Chief Masood Azhar whose brother in-law Ustad Ghouri reportedly died in today's strike.
Sushma Swaraj is headed to Wuzhen in China for a bilateral meeting with her Chinese counterparts where Balakot will figure.
The Mirage jets returned to India within minutes but have changed India's security mindset and doctrine forever.
(Swati Chaturvedi is an author and a journalist who has worked with The Indian Express, The Statesman and The Hindustan Times.)
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