The escalation of tensions between the two nuclear-armed neighbours of South Asia has raised many questions at internal and international levels. The foremost question is whether India should limit itself to exercising only the diplomatic channels to deal with ‘Pakistan’s sponsored war on terror.’ While Pakistan defines India’s air strike as a ‘serious breach on its sovereignty,’ it does represent the practical case of India’s ‘Just War’ on terrorist outfits which operate from inside Pakistan’s territory. The same kind of strikes has been carried out by the US and Israel against terrorist groups in the past.

The Pakistani side has blamed India as ‘war mongers’; it should be reminded that any war against terrorist groups comes under the territory of ‘just war theory.’

The political scientist named Augustine was the first person to set the principles of a just war. It simply means that war is needed to be waged by a legitimate authority, having a just cause and have the right intentions. ‘Just war’ consists of two core principles – Jus ad Bellum and Just in Bello. Just ad Bellum defines the conditions under which the war could be waged by states. For example, war can be carried for the restoration of justice or for self-defence while Just in Bello reminds parties in conflict to limit the sufferings of the conflict.

India has taken care of the fact that there should be no damage to any civilian facility or to military installations of Pakistan and the damage should be inflicted only on terrorist groups operating from Pakistan’s soil which shows its adherence to the principles of ‘Just War.’ India was forced to take such action in self-defence when all diplomatic channels failed to work between the two nations. The recent data released by the Ministry of Home Affairs shows that there has been a 93 per cent rise in the numbers of security personnel killed in terrorist activities in Jammu and Kashmir. The total number of soldiers martyred between 2017-2018 is as high as 171 which is the largest number for any country which is officially not at war with any other nation state. This number, however, does not include the lives lost during the ceasefire violations on LoC. As a result, the Pulwama incident emerged as a triggering event, leading India to exercise the ‘precision air strike option’ against terrorist outfits being supported by Pakistan. The precision air strike option was exercised by India after considering the facts regarding Pakistan’s response to the action and India’s readiness for the same.

Such surgical strikes have also opened the room for India’s response in low-intensity conflicts which are usually carried out by Pakistan under the nuclear shadow. Pakistan has supported ‘first use (FU) policy’ if any kind of attack is carried out on its territory even if it is through conventional means. As a result, India did not exercise any kind of military action against Pakistan during past terrorist activities from Parliament attacks in 2001 to 26/11 Mumbai terrorist activities. Matters were escalated in past at both military and diplomatic levels, but India always refrained from any kind of preventive strikes.

Various scholars, academicians and policymakers since then have discussed the way to address the terrorist threats coming from Pakistan under the nuclear umbrella and India’s inability to deal with them. However, the change in military technology has made it possible to carry out precision strikes while having zero casualties of those who are not directly involved in the conflict. Such strikes have definitely opened the way for India’s retaliation to terrorist outfits while not opening the room for the conventional warfare which may attract nuclear retaliation.

Precision strikes to destroy terrorist outfits could not be carried out without international support. All the major powers including France, US, UK, Russia have expressed their support for India and the measures taken by it. This clearly represents the success of India’s foreign policy. Even the ‘all weather friend’ of Pakistan has not supported its terrorist activities. France has proposed a resolution to ban terrorist Masood Azhar who was the mastermind behind various terrorist activities in India. If this resolution gets passed in UNSC, international pressure will be mounted on Pakistan to take action. Given the fact that China has strongly condemned the terrorist attacks in Pulwama, it seems unlikely that it will exercise its veto power again to stop the ban of Masood Azhar.

This clearly shows that the strategic game is moving in favour of India. India has exhibited clearly on two occasions that the presence of nuclear weapons combined with Pakistan’s First Use policy will not stop it from taking actions against terrorist groups which are operating from Pakistan’s soil. The combination of political will, innovations in military technology and foreign policy have made it possible for India to change the strategic game in its own favour and to take strong action in ‘self-defence’ and for ‘restoration of justice.’

(The writer is a Post-Doctoral Fellow at the Nelson Mandela Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies, New Delhi)