NEW DELHI: The ‘surgical strikes’ by the Indian Special Forces resulting in “massive casualties” in Pakistan have placed both the neighbours firmly in the zone of war.

After crossing the Line of Control last night and taking out a reported 38 Pakistanis in ‘terror launch pads’, New Delhi has placed the ball back in Islamabad’s court. As former Vice Chief of Army Staff Lt General Vijay Oberoi said, “with this one action we have demonstrated the political will which is a very important signal, but also ended the jingoism so evident on television channels and elsewhere. Now it will be for Pakistan to respond, with the Indian response being determined accordingly.”

The question on everyone’s lips in New Delhi is: what will Pakistan do now? There is no doubt that the Indian forces carried out the night operations, going two kilometres into Pakistan territory, and hitting seven terror launch pads, killing reportedly 38 persons and returning in the wee hours of the morning without any casualties. Pakistan has denied the ‘surgical strikes’ that is a term used to describe a precise operation, targeting pre-determined locations.

Pakistan has admitted to the death of two soldiers, and several others injured, maintaining that these casualties were inflicted by India during cross border firing, and not by crossing the borders altogether. However, since clearly Islamabad is pondering over the situation, the militaries of both countries remain on high alert even as the world watches---rather silently---the face off that could escalate into a full fledged war.

The initial denial by Islamabad seemed to suggest an unwillingness to escalate the issue. However, the military and diplomatic assessment in India is that Pakistan will react and respond. When, Where and How remain the three questions that will probably only be answered if and when a military counter is actually staged. And as senior military officers here said, India is more than ready to respond in kind.

The Pakistan response, could thus be according to sources one or more of the following:

  1. Denial followed by some kind of Cross Border quick raids that it has carried out before;
  2. A more effective military response by penetrating Indian territory in a similar manner. As General Oberoi said, “the Pakistanis, in terms of terrain and heights, are in more advantageous positions along the Line of Control at some spots, just as we are at others.”

A third option of Pakistan remaining on the diplomatic course was ruled out by strategic experts, who were of the view that given the pressure from within, the military under Pakistan chief General Raheel Sharif would not sit back and accept what will be seen as a militaristic defeat by his men.

No one spoken to could however, say how and where the buck will stop with a Pandora’s box having been opened, that neither New Delhi or Islamabad might quite have the capability to close. If Pakistan responds with a military response that brings into Indian territory, New Delhi is clear according to sources, that it will retaliate. Where this will stop is not clear, with a full fledged war again opening all kinds of possibilities including that of the nuclear button.

Sources here were of the view that while political leaders from Pakistan have placed the nuclear threat on the table, they will not be able to move at all in that direction because of the international community, and the dire consequences integral to a nuclear attack. However, no one ruled out any possibilities with senior military officers maintaining that India would “wipe out” Pakistan if it actually pressed the nuclear button. A nuke is a nuke the sources said, and “our retaliation would be massive.”

Those on both sides of the border who have been advocating peace and dialogue for decades now, are the most dismayed and worried as the possibilities inherent in the current tension that has moved far beyond the diplomatic space, carry with it the message of death, destruction and violence inbuilt into the situation now, with two nuclear armed countries facing each other, fully prepared for war. The Congress party has been amongst the first to congratulate the government on the surgical strikes, assuring the Prime Minister and the Indian Army of all support.