Surgical Strikes 2.0 in PoK and Pakistan’s Response

Following the February 14 Pulwama terror attack, avowed by Pakistan’s proxy Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM), India has employed a multi-pronged strategy to pressurize Pakistan. India’s four overt moves include a) India launched a diplomatic offensive against Pakistan where Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale met 25 heads of missions, including the P5 members of the UN Security Council...

Following the February 14 Pulwama terror attack, avowed by Pakistan’s proxy Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM), India has employed a multi-pronged strategy to pressurize Pakistan. India’s four overt moves include a) India launched a diplomatic offensive against Pakistan where Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale met 25 heads of missions, including the P5 members of the UN Security Council, besides South Asian countries and key partners such as Israel, Japan and South Korea, b) choking water supply for Pakistan from the Indus river. It diverted water from eastern rivers and supplied it to the people of Jammu & Kashmir and Punjab, c) India withdrew the Most Favoured Nation (MFN) status it gave to Pakistan in 1996, which offered a guarantee that it wouldn’t be treated any differently from other trade partners of India, and d) conducting surgical strikes against JeM hideouts across the Line of Control (LoC) in Balakot, Muzaffarabad and Chakothi. In response, Pakistan has been blaming India for orchestrating the terror attacks on itself and responding aggressively. This article makes an attempt to analyse Pakistan’s long-term strategies to counter recent developments.

Pakistan’s Initial Response

The initial response of Pakistan has been confused and contradictory. By condemning the aggression and emphasizing on Pakistan’s ability to exact retribution, the political leadership appeared to have accepted India’s surgical strikes on its territory. The ISPR website condemned India for intruding Pakistan air space and denied any strike in Balakot sector. It is pertinent to note that Pakistan’s reactions, like the last time in September 2016, have been similar to its reactions after the US killing of Osama bin Laden.

After the initial confusion, Pakistan’s leadership has been using its media to project the entire operation as ‘failure’ and highlight its combating capabilities. With its oft-repeated stand that outfits targeting India do not operate from its soil, Pakistan criticised India for attempting to alter the rules of engagement at the LoC. Pertinently, Pakistan has been referring the incident confined only to Balakot since it is its sovereign territory. Areas of Muzaffarabad and Chakothi that were also targeted as part of the surgical strikes are not being discussed as it is part of Azad Jammu and Kashmir and it cannot make a legitimate claim over it.

It has been challenging for Pakistan to create an alternative to the counter-terrorism narrative by India. Pakistan’s assessment of the operation will continue to reiterate the rhetoric that India’s twin objective is (a) to divert global attention from the Kashmir situation and (b) to sabotage the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).

Pakistan’s Retaliation

Short-Term: First, the ISPR statement indicated that it was under pressure to act, with its spokesperson saying that India must “wait for our response” and that it would come at a “point and time of our choosing.” Having said this, on February 27, after long hours of cease-fire violations along the heavily militarized LoC, Pakistan Air Force violated Indian airspace attempting to down an Indian MiG-21, which chased it back into Pakistan and then fell. Second, after having captured our Wing Commander, Pakistan Prime Minister attempted to use it as a bait to initiate peace dialogue with India. Third, in the garb of “peace gesture”, Pakistan has decided to release the Indian pilot. This brownie point will be used to cover up the fact that it allows its soil to nurture terrorism.

Long Term: First, Pakistan will continue attempting to react through its proxies and hurt India. In this context, it may back lone wolf attacks against targets both within and outside India. The target could be the valley or state-run institutions in important cities across India and/or on Indian interests in Afghanistan. Second, since Pakistan believes India is attempting to neutralise the former’s nuclear deterrence capabilities, it will continue making efforts to hinder India’s growing relevance in the world fora. This will include enlisting support against India’s bid at the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), membership into the NSG and designating Masood Azhar and Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi as global terrorists by the UN.

India’s Options

In the process of implementing the ‘neighbourhood first’ strategy, Indian foreign policy has reaffirmed its commitment in the region. India needs to continue putting pressure through the countries in the region to force Pakistan to stop its home-grown terror tactics.

  • A Coalition against Terrorism in the Neighbourhood: India may consider engaging friendly neighbours (Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Bhutan, Nepal, Maldives and Sri Lanka) bilaterally to announce a coalition against terrorism in the region. This could include supporting one another in coordinating military action, strengthening intelligence, conducting training and sharing best practices. By excluding Pakistan from this initiative, a clear message will be sent regionally and globally of its isolation on the counter-terrorism narrative.
  • Strengthening Sub-Regional and Extra-Regional Initiatives: While SAARC may continue to be in limbo under the shadow of India-Pakistan relations, active cooperation is essential within sub-regional and extra regional initiatives like the BBIN (Bangladesh, Bhutan, India and Nepal), BIM-STEC and IORA. This could isolate Pakistan further and disable its policy of sponsoring militancy in the long run.
  • Exerting Global Diplomatic Pressure: Since the military options are considerably limited in a nuclear environment, India could continue exerting sufficient diplomatic pressure globally to punish Pakistan for pursuing violence against India. India can continuously emphasise that it has undertaken several measures to combat terrorism. In this context, India’s role in the Global Counter Terrorism Force (GCTF) and the platforms of the several Joint Working Groups on Counter Terrorism (JWG-CT) with partner countries needs to be utilized effectively.
  • Enhancing Capability for Surgical Strikes against Select Targets: India could consider carrying out covert assassinations inside Pakistan against key leaders of anti-India terror outfits such as Lashkar-e-Taiba’s (LeT’s) Hafiz Saeed and JeM’s Masood Azhar. This is perhaps the best low-cost option available but with maximum risk involved.

Surgical strikes 2.0 have ensured that ‘force’ is a key factor of diplomacy for India. For Pakistan, dialogues and action(s) against India will require much more planning. Unlike before, India will be taken differently and seriously by other states for any negotiation. The move has given India’s image a new design.


Disclaimer: The views expressed or discussed in this paper are personal and is written for the purpose of generating an informed discussion and do not necessarily reflect any official policy on the subject.


Ms Portia B. Conrad is presently working with Ambassador Shyam Saran at the India International Centre, New Delhi. She was formerly associated with the Ministry of External Affairs and National Security Council Secretariat, Government of India. Her key interests lie in security-related issues in Afghanistan and Pakistan.