After Pulwama, Modi may find himself in a bind
India is staring at a diplomatic crisis in the aftermath of the suicide attack which killed 42 CRPF jawans.
India is staring at a diplomatic crisis in the aftermath of the deadly Pulwama attack.
On February 14, a suicide bomber rammed his explosives-laden Scorpio vehicle into a CRPF convoy in Jammu and Kashmir's Pulwama, barely 20km from Srinagar, killing at least 42 jawans.
Reacting immediately, India, in a bid to diplomatically isolate Pakistan, revoked the Most Favoured Nation status. But, as The Indian Express reported, the joint secretaries in the external affairs ministry in charge of 17 territorial divisions, began to put in place a form of coercive diplomacy.
The divisions contacted included the Arabian Gulf, the Americas, European and South Asian countries. In less than 24 hours, countries began issuing condemnation of the attacks and asked Pakistan to solve its terror problem.
On February 19, Pakistan Prime Minister, Imran Khan issued a statement. As expected, Khan denied the allegations that Pakistan was involved in Pulwama, and asserted that if India pursues a military option, Pakistan will retaliate.
With the arrival of the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, to both Pakistan earlier, and now India, Modi may have found himself in a diplomatic fix with not many options left to manoeuvre.
What are India's options?
The script played out exactly like it had before. The final rites of the slain jawans were barely over when shriller voices took over. War and revenge against Pakistan were announced by anchors from their cushy TV studios.
Just two days after the attacks, speaking in a public meeting in Dhule, Maharashtra, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said "I want to assure each member of all the families who lost their loved ones that a due response will be given for each and every tear that has dropped. It is a new India with new policies and the world is going to experience it now. Whether those who use the gun or those who give the gun, those who blow the bomb or those who provide the bombs - your brave security forces will not let anyone sleep in peace."
However, public posturing aside, the reality is that India has little options on the table.
Speaking to Asiaville, Kabir Taneja, foreign affairs expert at the Observer Research Foundation, said that apart from pursuing the case diplomatically, India at the present moment, cannot afford to pursue a military option.
"A military operation is always expensive. If India were to walk down that path, we need to remember that Pakistani army is no sheep. They are as battle-hardened as the Indian army is. So it won't be easy," he said. Moreover, a military option also runs the risk of escalation, especially between two nuclear-armed nations.
While, in the past, Modi has rejected the widely-held view that nuclear weapons are an automatic deterrent, the truth of the matter is that India, at this moment cannot risk an escalation.
"See, you should also understand that a war is economically catastrophic. And its not like India is in great economic health. So war, in my opinion, is not an option."
However, given Modi's past postures vis-a-vis Pakistan, not doing anything can also have serious political risks.
To begin with, the arrival of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed-bin-Salman to India, is a case in point.
Last night, as visuals of Salman's visit to New Delhi erupted on social media and television channels, one particular image stood out: Modi broke protocol, went out to receive the Crown Prince personally, and hugged him as he descended from his aircraft.
But, if one were to juxtapose these warm images of his reception, with Salman's statement, it only perhaps shows that India sought more action from Riyadh, and received, instead, far less.
In his statement, Salman did speak about terrorism and the need to ensure a safer environment, yet the statement fell just short of mentioning Pakistan. "The common concern is terrorism and extremism. We will cooperate with India and neighboring states to ensure future generations are safe. We applaud India's role in this matter," the Crown Prince said.
The statement from the Ministry of External Affairs, which came later in the day on Fenruary 20, said that the Saudi Crown Prince "appreciated the consistent efforts made by PM Modi since May 2014, including his personal initiatives to have friendly relations with Pakistan. Both sides agreed on the need for creation of conditions necessary for resumption of the comprehensive dialogue."
"Look India has little options right now on the table," Taneja said. With the 2016 surgical strikes, and the chest-thumping optics that followed, it showcased Modi as a tough leader who was not averse to taking risks.
Of course that surgical strike had little impact when it came to Pakistan's conduct vis-a-vis India. The Nagrota attacks followed, in which terrorists stormed a military base, resulting in the death of 28 jawans. Kashmir has seen no respite from violence, with the Pulwama attacks being the deadliest so far.