Taking Stock a Year After Balakot: India's Crisis Response and Takeaways

Media Coverage | April 02, 2020

A year after the crisis between India and Pakistan last February, the two nations continue to vie to set the conflict’s narrative, and many of the lessons that the next-door rivals took away from the episode remain unclear. Despite this, the crisis cemented a shift in New Delhi’s response to military provocations, a shift that began in the wake of the 2016 Uri attack and has seen India open up the conventional space for further probing.

After his election in 2014, Prime Minister Narendra Modi made an effort to reach out to Pakistan—he invited Pakistan’s leader Nawaz Sharif to his swearing-in ceremony, made an an impromptu trip to Lahore, and even offered a joint investigation into the 2016 Pathankot attack. However, the 2016 Uri attack served as the final nail in the coffin for this soft approach. Instead, the Modi government responded to the Uri attack with a tactical operation along the Line of Control (LoC) and publicly acknowledged them as “surgical strikes.” This response marked a shift towards a sustained hard policy that involved integrating military force into policy vis-à-vis Pakistan for retaliatory action. The Indian response in the aftermath of the Pulwama attack was an extension of the response to the Uri attack, which have together cemented an Indian response template for major provocations. Following the Balakot airstrikes, both the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) and the Indian Air Force (IAF) are looking to plug the capability gaps highlighted during the crisis. The trajectory of the Pulwama/Balakot crisis further suggests that the prospects for vertical escalation are more likely in a future crisis and that each side views conventional deterrence as pivotal to crisis stability.

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