First light on Friday virtually shut the window on an immediate strike to counter the outrage at Pulwama, so now there will be the routine high-level security meetings, visits to the site where a car bomb took the lives of some 40 CRPF personnel, etc, and hopefully the think-tank on national security will formulate and implement a strategy that will go beyond avenging the deaths ~ counting bodies is a zero-sum game.

For the national mood demands that Pakistan, the promoter and protector of terrorist outfits, is made to pay a price that truly hurts. Political rhetoric has lost its credibility, as have diplomatic sweet-nothings: India has bled enough. At the same time it remains a matter for regret that despite frequent terror attacks the Indian forces have not developed a powerful counterpunch that could have been delivered within hours of a terror raid.

While the planning for a reprisal must be left to the professionals, care will have to be taken to avert the debilitating overlap between military and political objectives, which has become a painful reality. Suggestions from the hawks range from launching cruise missiles to take out Jaish-e- Mohammad/Lashkar leadership or using Indian agents to attain the same objectives, to capturing and holding large chunks of Pakistani territory and then exacting a price higher than what was gained from 90,000 prisoners-of-war in 1972.

At the same time internal incompetence cannot be overlooked. Transporting some 2,500 jawans in soft-skinned vehicles in over 70 lorries needs examination. Could they not have been airlifted? Could the convoy not have been split up, and the troops not asked to take a 15-hour trip ~ fatigue had possibly reduced their alertness when they passed through a militant-infested area. The effectiveness of “sanitising” the highway requires re-evaluation. And did the Army relax because it was a CRPF movement?

Questions must also be answered from where so much explosive was acquired, and how did the terrorist-vehicle run through police checks and position itself so effectively. Terrorism is no stranger to J&K, but no foolproof intelligence/security counter-measures have been developed. Let us remember a local militant “delivered” the car bomb even though a Pakistan-based agency claimed responsibility. To dissect the political blame-game would be futile, all parties condemn themselves.

Even after Pulwama the cross-fire did not abate. The thrust on muscle has failed, no serious attempt has been made to divorce the common folk from the militant ~ has the Special Representative abandoned his token exercise ~ and the home minister’s frequent claim to have gained the upper-hand stands exposed at Pulwama.

Alas, the government refuses to accept that its stubborn approach fertilises the soil for terror. Kashmir-policy demands an overhaul, even if that proves an embarrassment to Raisina Hill. Call them “martyrs” or “bravehearts” ~ they are all victims of New Delhi’s sustained, callous, ineptitude.