Danish Siddiqui / Reuters People hold candles and placards during a vigil for the soldiers who were killed after gunmen attacked an Indian army base in Kashmir's Uri on Sunday, in Mumbai, India, September 19, 2016.

India's Options in Pakistan

What Will Follow the Attack in Kashmir

Over the weekend, terrorists attacked an army base in Kashmir, killing 18 Indian soldiers. Soon after, the Indian army announced that it believed that the terrorists had ties to Pakistan. With India apparently preparing to respond to the strike—Prime Minister Narendra Modi proclaimed that “those behind the attack will not go unpunished” and Defense Minister Manohar Parrikar said Wednesday that this “will not remain a mere statement”—U.S. officials could soon find themselves scrambling to manage a nuclear-shadowed crisis.

This would not be the first time. In December 2001, terrorists attacked the Indian parliament complex in New Delhi, prompting the Indian government to mobilize roughly 500,000 troops toward the border with Pakistan. U.S. officials spent months shuttling and phoning back and forth between the leaders of the two countries urging a non-military resolution. India, understandably, sought clear assurances from the Pakistani president, General Pervez Musharraf, that the country would end its support for cross-border terrorism and work to eradicate the groups that perpetrate it. In the end, the combination of U.S. pressure, accommodating gestures from Musharraf, and the lack of viable Indian military options defused the crisis.

Frustrated by this anti-climax, the Indian security establishment and political elite have since sought to develop viable military capabilities to compel the Pakistani security establishment to stop enabling terrorism and to punish the establishment for doing so. In campaigning for election in 2014, Prime Minister Narendra Modi vowed that India would act forcefully on his watch.

Yet, India still lacks military options that could satisfy its strategic objectives, the first of which is to get the Pakistani army to demobilize the most potent anti-India militant groups. After all, army and air force actions robust enough to really harm the Pakistani military could also leave that military unwilling and unable to demobilize the most potent anti-India militants in Pakistan. And even if Indian forces had the ability to move into Pakistani territory to inflict major damage on the army, Pakistan could use its nuclear weapons

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