The Shifting Contours of India – Pakistan Relations in the Aftermath of Pulwama

By Paras Ratna, Research Associate – Strategic & Foreign Relations Practice at Rashtram

Arunima Gupta, Former Senior Manager, Strategic & Foreign Relations at Rashtram

The source of the image is Vision India Foundation


In the Aftermath of Pulwama attack on 14th February by a Pakistan based terror outfit Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM), India witnessed an uproar of public sentiments asking the Indian Government to bring the perpetrators to justice. Campaigns on social media coupled with the live telecast of funerals contributed substantially to the public pressure. All this culminated into Indian Air Force (IAF) carrying out ‘Intelligence led pre-emptive action’ across Balakot in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province in Pakistan in the early hours of 26th February. This reportedly led to the destruction of the JeM’s largest training facility as well as attacking major terror suspects and jihadis.

This pre-emptive air strike by IAF apart from satisfying domestic constituencies signals a decisive shift in India’s counter-terrorism approach. The use of air power amidst nuclear threat demonstrates India’s willingness and ability to escalate in situations when red lines are breached.

The IAF strike on JeM terrorist training centre preceded by the surgical strike in 2016 points to a substantial change in India’s policy towards Pakistan. Previously, India exercised commendable self-restraint and primarily resorted to coercive diplomatic efforts to mount international pressure on Pakistan in eliminating terrorism from its soil. Now, it has deployed a multipronged strategy involving diplomatic pressure and intelligence guided pre-emptive strike as demonstrated in its post-Pulwama and Uri response.  

Pakistan’s response of blaming India for violation of its airspace and denial of any casualty is along expected lines. The Pakistan government has responded by signalling a counter-retaliation to New Delhi’s decision of a pre-emptive air strike. These happenings suggest Indo-Pak relation is poised to deteriorate further.

The Ministry of External Affairs (MEA), led by Ms Sushma Swaraj held an all-party meeting which was preceded by the press briefing by Indian Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhle. India’s statement clearly emphasizes air strike as “non-military intervention”, specifically targeting the “imminent danger” posed by Pak based terror outfits. The MEA also called upon Pakistan to adhere to its 2004 commitment of dismantling all JeM and terrorist camps from its soil. India’s commitment to fighting terrorism has seen a greater impetus since the Uri attack in 2016 and recently the Pulwama suicide bombings.

The inability of previous responses to yield any tangible success has paved the way for contestation of those approaches in the strategic circles. This whole episode highlights increasing public participation in issues of foreign policy and national security, greatly aided by social media. Operational ideas in India’s policy vis-a-vis Pakistan is increasingly being challenged while the current regime is continuously exploring new ways to respond to Pakistan-sponsored terrorism.

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