Magazine | Security | South Asia

Lessons From Balakot: One Year On

One year ago, India and Pakistan engaged in dangerous brinkmanship. What are the lessons learned?

By Sitara Noor and Rajeswari Pillai Rajagopalan for
Lessons From Balakot: One Year On

On February 14, 2019 a young Kashmiri man, acting on behalf of a Pakistan-based militant group, rammed a car laden with explosives into a bus bearing Indian police. Two weeks later, Indian jets streaked across the Line of Control (LoC) separating Indian- and Pakistan-administered Kashmir and dropped bombs onto what the Indian government claimed were terrorist camps in Balakot, Pakistan. In a dogfight the next day, two Indian jets went down and an Indian pilot was captured by Pakistani forces.

The spiral of tensions between the nuclear-armed nemeses had the world on edge. Since India and Pakistan emerged as nuclear powers in 1998, it’s long been feared that any conflict between the two would inevitably turn nuclear. Pakistan, in particular, had used this to its advantage, threatening an asymmetrical nuclear response to deter any conventional military action by Indian. With the nuclear threat looming large, successive Indian governments were at a loss as to how to respond to terrorist attacks believed to have originated from across the border. Until the Balakot strikes, that is. The episode raised new questions about India’s appetite for risk, Pakistan’s deterrence stance, and the future of conflict between the two archrivals.

A year later, The Diplomat asked analysts from both sides of the border what lessons Delhi and Islamabad took from Pulwama and Balakot. The ultimate question, of course, is whether those lessons mean the military action in the future is less likely – or more.