Tuesday, 19 March 2019

The Parrikar vacuum

By Ajai Shukla
Editorial comment, Business Standard
19th March 2019

With the passing of Manohar Parrikar, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has lost not just a successful chief minister and former defence minister, but also one of its few leaders with the ability and will to bridge the political spectrum and reach out to Goa’s minority Catholic and Muslim communities. True, much of this has to do with Mr Parrikar’s origins in a multi-ethnic, multi-religious state, where religious polarisation does not wins election. Even so, he deserves credit for rising above his Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh origins, obtaining a modern scientific education, working as a technology entrepreneur and, later, providing Goa a relatively liberal, tolerant administration during three tenures as chief minister, two of them truncated.

Opinion is divided on his effectiveness as defence minister, but Parrikar quickly understood the need to empower the private sector to drive indigenous defence production. His willingness to throw open the doors of his office to private industrialists won him a loyal following in the private sector and provided him a valuable reality check on the advice provided by sometimes hidebound administrators who preferred the status quo. He established a “Saturday Club” where he, or his senior officials, met regularly with executives of private defence industry leading to a better understanding within the defence ministry of how the private sector was institutionally discriminated against in defence manufacture. Parrikar did more to “level the playing field” than any other defence minister before or after.

Facing a ministerial culture where decisions were often held up by the fear of consequences, Parrikar replaced what he openly criticised as a “culture of suspicion” with his own bold decision-making style that cleaved through the Gordian knot of One Rank, One Pension; and other issues that his predecessors preferred to avoid. The ambitious deadlines he set for himself suggested he would have liked to move faster. The reality, however, is that he could not.

Throughout his 28 months as defence minister, Parrikar remained acutely aware of the importance of retaining a secure political base. Functioning from New Delhi, he remained the de facto chief minister of Goa, flying down on most weekends to set policy and adjudicate disputes within a fractious coalition. His stature across the political spectrum in Goa was underlined after the 2017 elections, when the Congress emerged the largest party, but the BJP persuaded smaller parties and independents to form a coalition around Parrikar. That took him back to Goa where, despite falling critically ill, he continued functioning as chief minister till the end. 

Political turmoil in Goa following his death vindicates Parrikar’s belief that he was all that held the BJP-led coalition together. Without a BJP leader who can match his stature, coalition partners like the Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party and the Goa Forward Party are reconsidering the cost of their support. Leaders from these politically opposed parties have made it clear that they had come together under Mr Parrikar, not the BJP. In its letter to the Governor demanding a smooth transition, the Congress has paid Parrikar a backhanded compliment, writing: “Now, after Mr Parrikar’s death, BJP has no allies.” The BJP, which has been on the lookout for more talent in the government, will surely feel his absence.

Monday, 18 March 2019

Parrikar remembered as defence reformer with clean image

Manohar Parrikar: 13 December 1955 - 17 March 2019

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 18 March 19

Manohar Gopalkrishna Prabhu Parrikar, who passed away in Goa on Sunday evening, is remembered in the defence ministry and across India’s defence industry as a rare defence minister who grasped the daunting technological dimensions of the military. 

His background as an Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) graduate and as a chief minister with an excellent track record as an administrator equipped him to initiate defence industry and policy reforms that are only now beginning to bear fruit.

On November 10, 2014, Parrikar left his post as Goa’s chief minister and took over the powerful defence minister’s post, replacing Arun Jaitley who had functioned as a stopgap for the previous five months. Parrikar remained defence minister for just 28 months, returning to Panjim on March 13, 2017 to head the newly elected Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led coalition government.

“Like AK Antony before him, Parrikar came to the defence ministry with a reputation for personal honesty. But Antony was wary of private companies and felt comfortable only with the public sector. Parrikar was confident enough to throw open his doors for private firms, and to co-opt them into building India’s defence capabilities,” says a top civil servant who served under Parrikar.

“His extraordinary passion and commitment to the public good brooked no short cuts or unholy compromises. A rare figure in public life, his absence will be sorely missed,” says former defence acquisitions chief, Vivek Rae.

In instituting defence policy reform, Parrikar often underestimated the resistance from entrenched interests. Consequently, he seldom met his self-imposed deadlines, whether in coming out with the new Defence Procurement Procedure of 2016, a Make in India policy, or the Strategic Partner (SP) policy that overtly co-opts the private sector into defence manufacture.

Yet, many of these policies are now coming on stream and the credit belongs to Parrikar, say defence ministry bureaucrats.

“He initiated unprecedented reforms, bringing in a fresh breath of openness in the defence ministry and engaging industry before promulgating policies. Unfortunately, many of his path breaking initiatives slowed down after he returned to Goa,” says Jayant Patil, L&T’s defence head.

The biggest tribute to his legacy will be to complete his unfinished agenda,” says Rahul Chaudhry, who heads Defence Innovators and Industry Association.

“He was an affable, approachable, man-on-a-mission who devoted himself to deciphering and simplifying the complexities of defence acquisition policy,” recalls Rajindar Bhatia of Kalyani Group.

Parrikar’s tenure was not without controversy, such as when he stated in May 2015: “We have to use terrorists to neutralise terrorists.” Typically, Parrikar never apologised for that statement or retracted it.

However, Parrikar had only a limited role in the single biggest defence controversy that still dogs the BJP-led government: the purchase of 36 Rafale fighters from French vendor, Dassault. As numerous reports have now established, key decisions relating to that contract were taken in the prime minister’s office (PMO) or by the cabinet committee on security (CCS), including the decision in early April 2015 to announce the purchase during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Paris that month.

Parrikar was left with the job of defending the deal to the media. He consistently made it clear that, his support notwithstanding, the decision to buy 36 Rafale was Modi’s and the PM should be “given credit” for it.

Tuesday, 12 March 2019

Russian arms sales boom in the face of prickly ties, possible sanctions

Russia was India’s biggest arms supplier from 2014-18; further deals valued at $15 billion are in the pipeline (Photo: At the commissioning of INS Chakra in 2012) 

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 12th Mar 19

Defence business between Russia and India is booming, with contracts worth over $15 billion in the pipeline. This is despite rising strategic friction between Moscow and New Delhi, and the threat of US sanctioning India for defence ties with Russia.

On Monday, the Stockholm International Peace Research Organisation reported that Russia was India’s biggest arms supplier from 2014-18, accounting for 58 per cent of all India’s defence imports. And this is set to continue.

On Friday, India signed an estimated $3 billion contract with Russia leasing a Russian nuclear attack submarine (SSN) for ten years, starting 2025. Five days earlier, Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated a factory that will manufacture at least 750,000 AK-203 Kalashnikov rifles for the Indian Army, worth another billion dollars. In October, the ministry of defence (MoD) announced a contract to build two Krivak-III class frigates in Goa Shipyard. Two more Krivak-III frigates are coming fully built from Russia as part of the four-ship procurement, estimated to be worth $3 billion.

The Indian Air Force (IAF) is also buying Russian. In October, it inked a $5.43 billion contract for five S-400 Triumf air defence units. Last month, Business Standardreported the IAF’s interest in buying and upgrading 21 MiG-29 fighters lying unused in Russia for about a billion dollars. The IAF has also mooted a new contract to build 18 Sukhoi-30MKI fighters in Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) for over $800 million. And HAL and Russian Helicopters have tied up to build 200 Kamov 226T light helicopters in India, worth about $2 billion.

From Russia with love

Weapons System

AK-203 Kalashnikov assault rifles
$1 billion

10-year lease of nuclear submarine 
$3 billion

Krivak-III frigates
$3 billion

Air Force
S-400 Triumf air defence system
Five units
$5.43 billion

MiG-29 fighters
$1 billion

Sukhoi-30MKI fighters
$800 million

Kamov 226T helicopters
$2 billion


$15.23 billion

These big-ticket contracts, worth over $15 billion exclude India’s large annual outgo on maintenance, spares, overhaul and upgrade of its existing Russian platforms. Nor do they include other procurements in the pipeline, such as the “very short range air defence system” (VSHORADS), where a Russian vendor has emerged the lowest bidders, but has not yet been awarded a contract. 

Despite this thriving defence trade, New Delhi and Moscow have an increasingly prickly relationship. Russia provided only qualified support after the IAF struck a Jaish-e-Mohammed camp in Balakot, Pakistan on February 26. Earlier, Russia had condemned the February 14 suicide bombing in Pulwama that killed 40 Indian security men, stating that “those who ordered it and carried it out” should be “duly punished”. Moscow also affirmed “unwavering support” for India’s “uncompromising fight against terrorism”, omitting, however, to mention Pakistan as the Jaish’s home.

Russia further nuanced its line after the Balakot strike, expressing “grave concern” over the “escalating situation” along the Line of Control (LoC) between India and Pakistan “which are Russia’s friends.” New Delhi has noted this unusual equivalence.

The day after Balakot, when Indian foreign minister Sushma Swaraj met her Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, on the sidelines of a Russia-India-China (RIC) foreign ministers’ meeting, the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) “expressed hope for a de-escalation” of the situation. On March 28, the MFA referred to “dangerous manoeuvres” along the LoC, urged restraint and offered counter-terrorism support to both countries. Here again, Moscow placed India and Pakistan on par.

Given New Delhi’s longstanding antipathy to international mediation on Kashmir, its feathers were most ruffled by Moscow’s offer to mediate in the crisis. On March 1, after a telephone call between Lavrov and Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, Moscow expressed “readiness to promote the de-escalation of tensions”.

Indian foreign policy experts ascribe Russia’s new even-handedness, even deference to Islamabad, as stemming from Moscow’s wish to play a central role in an Afghan settlement with the Taliban.

Towards this, Russia’s defence ministry last month announced the supply of a “small” number of Mi-35 attack helicopters to Pakistan. This supplemented four Mi-35s supplied in 2016-17 – the first combat platforms Russia sold to Pakistan since the Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation with India in 1971.

Then, in Vietnam last month, Lavrov dismissed the Indo-Pacific concept as an American ruse “to get India involved” in balancing China. He indicated that this was an artificial construct to align India with Japan, “which has no love lost for India”.

Even so, Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman attended a Russian briefing on the new MiG-35 at the Aero India 2019 show in Bengaluru last month. Ministry insiders say there is little chance of the MiG-35 winning a tenderfor 114 medium fighters for the IAF, or the navy’s tender for 57 multi-role carrier borne fighters.

However, Russia remains a strong contender in the navy’s Project 75-I tender for six conventional submarines for an estimated $4-5 billion. 

Arms purchases from Russia render New Delhi vulnerable to sanctions under an American law passed in 2017 – called “Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act” (CAATSA). This mandates sanctions against countries that engage in “significant transactions” with Russian, Iranian and North Korean defence and intelligence entities. President Donald Trump is empowered to waive these sanctions, but Washington sources say waivers would be given only in exceptional cases.

Saturday, 9 March 2019

Did air force use a secret bomb to strike Jaish camp at Balakot?

Army bomb experts say SPICE 2000 would have demolished buildings (photo: Pakistani soldier near alleged bomb crater in Balakot camp)

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 9th Mar 19

Army bomb experts say that if the Indian Air Force (IAF) had used SPICE 2000 precision-guided bombs to strike the Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) camp in Balakot, Pakistan on February 26, they would have utterly demolished any regular brick-and-mortar buildings they hit.

The IAF has publicly insisted it hit its targets. If that is indeed true, then the lack of obvious damage could mean it has used a different bomb – possibly procured secretly from Israel.

Business Standard spoke to army explosives experts to verify the IAF’s claim, made anonymously to two national newspapers on Thursday, that the four buildings they hit in Balakot seemed externally undamaged in satellite photos because the bombs they used contained “only” 70-80 kilogrammes (kg) of high explosive.

“The warhead would not cause total destruction of the buildings hit and neither was this being aimed for,” said The Hindu, quoting a “senior defence official.”

This contention that 70-80 kg of explosive would spare the building is debunked by Major General Manik Sabherwal (Retired), the army explosives expert who was called in to reconstruct the explosive devices that killed former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi in 1991 and Punjab chief minister Beant Singh in 1995.

“A bomb with 70-80 kg of military grade high explosive would destroy a two-storey or three-storey building. Its roof would be blown off, and most of its walls blown out,” Sabherwal told Business Standard.

Describing 70-80 kg as “a hell of a lot of explosive”, Sabherwal pointed out that an anti-tank mine, which can rip open the belly of a heavily armoured tank, weighs just 5 kg and a 155-millimetre artillery shell, which can bring down a building, contains just 12-15 kg of explosive.

There has been international scepticism over India’s claims of having killeda “very large number” of terrorists in Balakot. After Pakistan granted limited access to the targeted site to foreign news agencies, including Reuters, Associated Press, The New York Times, Washington Post and Al Jazeera, they reported that the camp buildings were intact. 

The same conclusion has been reached by satellite photo analyses by Jane’s Defence Weekly, Australian Strategic Policy Institute, Reuters and Atlantic Council. In photos taken before and after the IAF strikes, the camp buildings appear unchanged.

However, Pakistani authorities have not yet allowed reporters to physically visit the buildings, raising questions about what they might be hiding.

The anonymous officials who briefed Indian Express explain this by claiming that the bombs used against Balakot are so specialised that they only made a small hole in the roof. If there is a “need to take out the people staying in a particular room without causing any damage to the adjacent room… We have the capacity to do that with this weapon”, they said, hinting at the possibility of secret, specialised munitions.

IAF sources have also made another claim to explain why the Balakot camp buildings are still standing. They say SPICE 2000 munitions are “bunker busting” weapons that explode only after penetrating the ground, diminishing their destructive power.

Rejecting that, Sabherwal said: “A bomb’s shock wave passes through solid medium like soil even more efficiently than through air. So if the bomb passed right through the building and exploded under it, that would create an even more disruptive shock wave that would disrupt the foundations of the building, bringing it down.”

Describing the effect on a building, another army bomb expert who requests anonymity since he is still serving, assesses: “70-80 per cent of the building would collapse, with only a part of the outer walls standing. The rest would be rubble.”

That again raises the question: did the IAF use a bomb with specialised effects, about which no details have been made public yet?

Air Marshal Nirdosh Tyagi, who headed the IAF’s equipment acquisitions, says the acquisition of the SPICE 2000 started in 2007 and took two-to-three years of trials to finalise. SPICE – which is an acronym for Smart Precise Impact and Cost Effective – is only a guidance kit that must be mated with a bomb, usually the Mark 84 bomb.

Before it is launched from an aircraft, the SPICE is loaded with the target’s precise latitude and longitude coordinates, towards which it is guided by a navigation unit that takes inputs from Global Position System (GPS) satellites and an on-board Inertial Navigation System (INS). As it approaches the target, a visual seeker switches on and, using “scene matching software”, homes in on the target, the photograph of which has been fed into the seeker before the mission.

Tyagi says, and this is corroborated on the website of Israeli company, Rafael, which supplies the SPICE 2000, that it can be launched from 60 km away from the target. That would have required IAF Mirage 2000s fighters to ingress at least 20 km across the Line of Control (LoC) before releasing their SPICE 2000 bombs towards Balakot. But IAF sources have been emphatic that the Mirages did not cross the LoC. Was there another, longer range, specialised munition?

Friday, 8 March 2019

Navy signs lease for third Russian nuclear submarine

Will join the navy in 2025, after current INS Chakra (pictured here) completes its 10-year lease

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 8th Mar 19

Underlining slow progress in the indigenous project to design and build six nuclear powered attack submarines (SSNs), India and Russia have signed a ten-year lease for a new Russian SSN, which will join the Indian fleet around 2025.

The navy already operates a Russian SSN, called INS Chakra, which was taken on a ten-year lease in April 2012 for almost a billion dollars. This was to return to Russia in 2022, but defence ministry sources say its lease could be extended by three years, while the next INS Chakra is built.

India leased its first nuclear submarine, the Charlie-class INS Chakra, in 1988. That went back to Russia in 1991 and the navy did without an SSN for 21 years until it leased an Akula-class SSN, the second INS Chakra, in 2012.

India has indigenously designed and built a nuclear-propelled, nuclear ballistic missile submarine (SSBN), called INS Arihant. A second SSBN, called INS Arighat, is to follow shortly, with two more in the pipeline. SSBNs are not a part of the navy’s combat fleet. They are armed with nuclear tipped ballistic missiles that are the underwater leg of India’s nuclear delivery triad – i.e. nuclear weapons delivered by land-based missiles, aircraft-dropped weapons and those fired from under water.

SSNs, in contrast, are a part of the navy’s combat fleet. They are propelled by a nuclear reactor, but do not carry nuclear weapons. Their weapons load consists of land attack and anti-ship missiles, and torpedoes to sink enemy shipping.

While the current INS Chakra operates Russian weaponry and command systems, the next Chakra will be fitted with Indian systems, to validate them for the indigenous submarines. However, a key system that remains to be developed is a nuclear reactor for the SSN.

Besides the Chakra, the navy also operates 14 conventional submarines and is to receive five more Scorpene submarines under construction in Mazagon Dock, Mumbai. These also fire missiles and torpedoes but, since their diesel engines cannot run underwater for lack of air, a conventional submarine can remain submerged for only as long as its on-board electric batteries provide power. When the batteries are drained, typically in 8-48 hours, the submarine must surface to run its generators and recharge batteries. A surfaced submarine is vulnerable to detection and attack.

In contrast, an SSN’s nuclear reactor can run underwater, allowing it to remain submerged indefinitely, when it is extremely hard to detect. This allows SSNs to slip underwater into its patrol area – say the Gulf of Malacca – and lurk in ambush for days on end, listening through its sonar for enemy ships. Then it can torpedo them and escape at high speed underwater.

SSNs are ideal for these so-called “sea denial” missions, in which one denies the enemy the use of the sea. Meanwhile the navy uses aircraft carrier battle groups for “sea control” missions, where carrier-borne air power dominates an expanse of ocean.

The cost of the ten-year lease signed on Thursday is being reported as $3 billion. That would be over thrice the cost of the lease of the current INS Chakra.

Wednesday, 6 March 2019

Indian Navy rejects Pak claim of detecting submarine, calls it 'propaganda'

The fake video purporting to be of an Indian submarine, which turned out to be recycled from a Pakistani television channel in 2015

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 6th Mar 19

With the Indian Air Force (IAF) and army already having exchanged blows with the Pakistani military, Pakistan has now accused the Indian Navy of “provocative actions against Pakistan.”

A Pakistan Navy statement on Tuesday claimed “one of the latest submarines of the Indian Navy” was detected on Monday, operating off Pakistan, and “could have been easily engaged and destroyed had it not been Pakistan’s policy to exercise restraint in the face of Indian aggression and to give peace a chance to prevail.”

Pakistan claims this is the second time an Indian submarine has been detected in Pakistani waters, after an incident on November 14, 2016, when the “Pakistan Navy caught Indian Navy submarine operating in Pakistani EEZ (exclusive economic zone).”

Soon after the Pakistani statement, a video emerged on social media, purporting to be of the detected Indian submarine. It quickly emerged this was a fake video, produced by a Pakistani television channel in 2015.

International maritime law permits vessels from all countries, including warships, to operate freely in international waters, including in other countries’ EEZs, which extend 200 nautical miles from their coasts. A country’s territorial waters extend only 12 nautical miles from its coast; and, even in those waters, vessels from other countries enjoy the “right to innocent passage”. 

From official Pakistani statements, it is evident that the Indian submarine never encroached into Pakistani territorial waters.

The Indian Navy responded unapologetically on Tuesday, stating that it “remains deployed as necessary to protect national maritime interests.”
It said in an official statement: “Over the past several days, we have witnessed Pakistan indulging in false propaganda and spread of misinformation. The Indian Navy does not take cognizance of such propaganda. Our deployments remain undeterred.”

That suggests that Indian submarines will continue their peacetime routine of patrolling off the Pakistani coast, without entering territorial waters, but ready to sink Pakistani shipping at short notice if hostilities break out.

“We routinely send submarines for patrols along the Pakistani coast, as also into the South China Sea. Pakistan too sends submarines to patrol India’s western coast. And maritime patrol aircraft from both sides play a cat-and-mouse game, trying to detect and identify enemy submarines,” says a former Indian submariner.

In this provocative game, Indian submarines enjoy a significant geographical advantage. Pakistani submarines cannot come too close to India’s western coast, where the water is very shallow, since the gradient of the continental shelf is low. In contrast, the water is deep until close to the Pakistani coast, permitting submarines to operate freely without the risk of scraping their hulls on a shallow ocean floor. 

India operates a fleet of 14 conventional submarines: nine Russian-origin Kilo-class boats, four German-origin HDW boats and one recently-commissioned Scorpene submarine, INS Kalvari, which the Pakistan Navy claims to have detected. Five more Scorpene submarines of the Kalvari-class are under construction and would all join service by 2021.

In addition, India operates two nuclear powered submarines: the attack submarine, INS Chakra, and a nuclear ballistic missile submarine, INS Arihant.

Pakistan’s navy operates eight submarines: five French-origin Agosta-90B and Agosta-70 boats and three Italian-origin Cosmos-class midget submarines. There is a joint venture with China to build at least six Yuan-class submarines in Pakistan, which will enter service between 2023-2028.

Tuesday, 5 March 2019

After Balakote, India strikes new tone

After demonstrated its resolve, New Delhi must now focus on the alienation in Kashmir

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 5th Mar 19

The captured Indian Air Force (IAF) pilot is back home, cross border firing on the Line of Control (LoC) is reducing and India’s military has publicly “committed to maintaining peace and stability in the region”. We can assume this crisis is winding down, although another attack like the one at Pulwama on February 14 could trigger fresh cross-border violence. It is, therefore, worth taking a step back to examine how, and where, the strategic terrain has shifted as a result of India’s pre-emptive strikes. At the same time, we must take careful note of what remains unchanged.

First, a seismic shift has taken place through New Delhi’s ostentatious abandonment of “strategic restraint”. Since the Pulwama attack, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan has been telegraphing to India a plea to hold back and resolve matters through dialogue. All through the crisis, Mr Khan urged restraint, even after shooting down an Indian MiG-21 and capturing an IAF wing commander. The very next day, Mr Khan offered to repatriate the pilot as a “gesture of peace”. While that brought him praise for statesmanship and maturity, it was hard to miss the change: suddenly, the rational actor was the Pakistani leader. India’s leader was the unpredictable one. Pakistan’s strategy, one that has been described as “cultivated irrationality”, lies in tatters on the floor. India’s “strategic restraint” has given way to “assured retaliation”.

It is hard to overstate the magnitude and ramifications of this change. Since 1947, India has played the rational and responsible actor in every confrontation with Pakistan. It sent troops to Kashmir only after the Maharaja signed the Instrument of Accession in October 1947. The next year, India agreed, despite its military momentum, to wind down the Kashmir war by referring the dispute to the United Nations. In early 1965, so restrained was New Delhi during the skirmish with Pakistan in Kutch that President Ayub Khan concluded India would not have the stomach to confront a tribal invasion, or a Pakistani ground force intervention in Kashmir later that year. The rational player theme was again evident in 1999, when India pushed out Pakistani infiltrators from Kargil while consciously restraining its aircraft and ground forces from crossing the LoC. Through years of cross border terrorism and militancy – in Nagaland, Mizoram, Punjab, Kashmir, the Mumbai bomb blasts of 1993 and the 26/11 strike in 2008 – India demonstrated restraint. In 2001-02, when the terrorist attack on Parliament provoked New Delhi into mobilising its military, the rationality of Indian decision-makers brought the army back to its barracks without drawing blood. Soon after, India developed the “Cold Start” doctrine that envisions Indian battle groups pouring into Pakistan as soon as a provocation occurs. However, Pakistani forward deployment and its deployment of tactical nuclear weapons (TNWs) have held back rational Indian decision-makers from entering into this escalatory spiral.

All along, Rawalpindi (Pakistan Army’s headquarters, where the real decisions are made) has duped a rational New Delhi into believing that Pakistan would respond irrationally to any Indian punishment. Pakistan assiduously created the impression it would counter Indian strikes with its own army, while stepping up the ante with “sub-conventional assets” – a euphemism for radical Islamist groups like Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) and Lashkar-e-Toiba(LeT). Pakistan has repeatedly signalled that if this were insufficient to hold India, Pakistan would breach the nuclear threshold, starting with using its TNWs. To be sure, India’s nuclear doctrine mandated massive retaliation – an all-out nuclear attack, targeting major Pakistan cities – but nobody in Pakistan believed that rational and responsible New Delhi would retaliate massively, given that Pakistan’s surviving nuclear weapons would immediately riposte, taking both sides towards mutual assured destruction, with its fitting acronym – MAD.

All this is now in the past, with India having demonstrated resolve, unpredictability and indeed a political appetite for punishing cross-border terror attacks. India is now willing to deploy more than the longstanding options of “fire assaults” and “surgical strikes”, which allowed Pakistan to impose counter costs in the same coin. Instead, New Delhi could escalate to options where India is significantly stronger, such as air power and – who knows? – perhaps naval power next. For Pakistan, the comfortable old calculations and certainties are no longer valid. Strikes on Indian targets now carry a high risk of retaliation and escalation.

Second, India must ensure that its intent is supported by its ability. Regrettably, it remains disputed whether the IAF actually struck and destroyed the madrassa it targeted at Balakot. On Sunday, the air chief protested that the IAF “can’t count how many people died”, but nobody wants a precise body count. What India and the global community need to be conclusively demonstrated -- employing standard “post strike assessment” done with aircraft cameras, satellite photos, unmanned aerial vehicles or ground agents – is that India is not just willing, but also able, to strike its targets. This is equally true for the IAF’s claim to have shot down a Pakistani F-16, which also remains contested. In these days of aircraft cameras and airborne command platforms that track every second of an engagement, it is appalling that the IAF is unable to muster convincing proof of a MiG-21 shooting down an F-16 -- which would be a David-versus-Goliath triumph.

If India intends to continue along the path of retaliatory strikes, this needs to feature higher in our tri-service doctrine, service strategies and equipping priorities. Instead, these documents remain preoccupied with “preparing for a two-front war”, that most unlikely of contingencies. Prioritising cross-border punitive strikes would create a robust capability for dealing in a measured fashion with major provocations, without risking a spiral into full-scale war.

Third, and perhaps most crucial, New Delhi must remember that the roots of the current crisis, like others before it, lie in the estranged landscape of Kashmir. The hopelessness that drove a Kashmiri youth to offer himself as a Jaish suicide bomber is widespread, and could lead others down that path too. While the origins of the Kashmir dispute go back to 1947, the last five years have seen an unprecedented spike in Kashmiri alienation. The Valley’s Muslims are seething as the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has implemented its Hindutva ideology across India. For Kashmiris, the killing of Muslims by gau rakshaks(cow protectors), initiatives like ghar wapasi(re-conversion to Hinduism), regulations preventing Muslims from praying in public spaces, and the “love jihad” bogey validate the two-nation theory, based on the idea that Muslims could never be safe in Hindu India.

Instead of the healing touch that is required, the government continues treating Kashmir as a security issue that is best crushed under the jackboot. Despite this, violence levels have increased over the last five years, more youth are picking up the gun and, most worryingly, unarmed civilians are willing to be shot down while confronting security forces. Yet not a single senior BJP leader has engaged in dialogue with Kashmiri separatist leaders. As long as Kashmir simmers in anger, the potential remains for another attack that could kill dozens of security men and spark another crisis with Pakistan. Only dialogue can douse the anger.