There will almost certainly be a strong military response from India. In September 2016, when an army camp was assaulted by terrorists who had infiltrated from Pakistan into Kashmir, the Narendra Modi government sent in commandos to Pakistan to carry out targeted counterattacks. The scale of this attack is much bigger and, likely, so too will be the response from India.
Pakistan has long operated on the assumption that two nuclear nations will not and cannot escalate their conflict above a certain threshold. It is this calculation that emboldens Pakistan’s asymmetric war against India, in which terror groups are proxies for its deep state. Well before 9/11, India was already battling this terrorism — mostly alone.
Today, as condemnations pour in from countries across the globe, leading international powers must take their share of blame for their unwillingness or inability to draw a red line around Pakistan’s patronage of terror. India’s response should be calibrated, restrained and responsible. Modi will be under enormous pressure to react swiftly. More so because the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party has always claimed to be more nationalistic than the opposition. And with elections just a month or so away, the government has a short window to make its point.
While India and Pakistan have gone through several phases of breakdown and repair in their relations, this time the breach is much more severe. Among ordinary Indians, patience is wearing thin. All talk of dialogue and reconciliation — or even of a shared history — appears pointless when young men are routinely being killed by fundamentalists who have patrons across the border.
Indians are also exasperated at global double standards in the form of the United States’ relationship of convenience with Pakistan because of its interests in Afghanistan, China’s protection of Pakistan as it were its vassal and Saudi Arabia’s bankrolling of a flagging Pakistan economy. There is a growing sense that India should forge tactical new alliances — if the United States sulks over India and Iran’s growing collaboration so be it — or realize that it will always be left alone to fight for self-preservation.
There was already diminishing appetite for an internal dialogue process in Kashmir. And this attack may have eliminated it altogether. In an interview with me, the governor of the state, Satyapal Malik, lashed out at both major political parties in Kashmir for being soft on terrorism.
Many Kashmiris argue that talk of radicalism is an excuse to tar the larger political debate. This is simply not true. The growing and aggressive Islamist sentiment among an entire generation of young Kashmiris is very much part of the shifting sands in the valley. And it has dramatically shrunk the space for a rational conversation about Kashmir elsewhere in the country.
In an angry, outraged and cynical country, this is unlikely to be an overstatement.
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