By and by, the Modi government is discovering the harsh truth: India just doesn't have room for manouevre in its Pakistan policy.
Public demand wants military action against Pakistan for the Uri attack yesterday. Terrorist attacks against Indian security forces in border areas used to be a thing of the '90s. Lately, they have returned: Pathankot earlier this year and Gurdaspur last year were two more such attacks.
Call it surgical strike or hot pursuit, any military action against Pakistan is a bad idea. It is unlikely to achieve the desired result of preventing future terrorist attacks. On the contrary, it could backfire.
1. Risk of War: India may mean a small strike, but there's no telling that Pakistan could escalate it. Between two nuclear armed neighbours, with one refusing to declare 'no first use', war is not an option.
2. More terrorism: Successful military action might actually increase the risk of terrorism. India helped create Bangladesh in 1971, and in turn, Pakistan took to terrorism aka sub-conventional warfare, in Punjab and Kashmir. Regaining some territory, causing more Pakistani casualties than Indian ones, or any such measure of success is unlikely to make Pakistan give up its use of terrorism.
3. No guarantee of success, risk of failure: The success of military conflict cannot be guaranteed. It might weaken India further and make it more vulnerable, if military action is unsuccessful. After 26/11, then prime minister Manmohan Singh had considered air strikes against Pakistan. But the air force chief had said India didn't have accurate digital data on terrorist camps in Pakistan, and the army chief had said the Indian Army was not prepared for a brief, surgical strike. Military experts say it would take years for India to develop strategic capabilities for targeted cross-border operations. Politically, military action that is seen as a failure would hurt the Modi government more than not doing anything.
4. Exactly what the Pakistani establishment wants: Countering that the Kargil incursion was not a "misadventure", General Musharraf maintains that it achieved the goal of internationalizing the Kashmir issue. The terrorists who struck at Uri, and their masters, know very well that such an attack could provoke India into military retaliation. They would be happy if that is the case, as it would help bring greater attention to the Kashmir issue. On 23 August, a Twitter account claiming to belong to the Jamat ud Dawa (Lashkar-e-Taiba) had said the Pakistani army was working to ensure that "Modi can only focus on Kashmir in days ahead, instead of Baluchistan, Sindh, GB, AJK or Karachi."
5. International pressure: For now, the US and UK have refrained from responding to the Uri attacks by calling for India and Pakistan to hold talks, as they used to. But if India were to pursue military action, it would alarm the world for fear of nuclear war. In such a case, there would be immense global pressure on India to not pursue military action. Any cross-border military action, whether or not you call it war, needs global diplomatic support. Without it, India may face a major international crisis. Pakistan will turn the tables and say that India is the aggressor. India cannot afford to look like an irresponsible state--that's not the image that India and prime minister Modi have been trying to cultivate.
6. It will hurt the economy. War is always bad for the economy, for both sides. In this case, India has a lot more to lose. The Indian economy is way ahead of Pakistan, so the damage will be greater for India. The uncertainties of war drive away potential investors, cause inflation and shortages. In fact, votaries of strategic restraint argue that success is the best revenge: India's economic rise is the best answer to a Pakistan whose image is that of a terrorism-sponsoring state.
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