Prime Minister Narendra Modi has finally revealed his response to the Uri attack.Over-the-top coverage in the Indian media wanted to push Modi for a military strike on Pakistan, and his own party-men were cheering on the process.
Yet, when the Prime Minister spoke at a meeting of the BJP’s national council in Kozhikode in Kerala it was in calculated, if tough tones, but clearly shelving military options and instead challenging Pakistan to a duel on removing poverty, unemployment, illiteracy, maternal deaths and infant mortality.
Over-the-top coverage in the Indian media urged Modi to push for a military strike on Pakistan, however Modi must concentrate on India's economic transformation
The Modi line emphasises strategic restraint on the military sphere, while stepping up the diplomatic pressure, and possibly covert operations, to isolate and sanction Pakistan.
Clearly, the Prime Minister insists on maintaining focus on India’s economic transformation, a project that would be derailed were India to get involved in any military adventure.
More importantly, Modi appears to recognise the point being made by several analysts, that it is strategic restraint that has brought India to the front rank of economic powers, where Pakistan has been brought to its knees by the blow-back from its long support for terrorism.
On the other hand, Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s speech to the UN General Assembly in New York last Wednesday, was clearly a wasted opportunity.
It was the usual tirade criticising India on Kashmir, and a grab bag of other issues -claiming victimhood on the issue of terrorism, demanding equal rights with India on the issue of membership to the Nuclear Suppliers Group and so on.
On Friday, in a stop-over at London on his way back, Sharif took another tack, arguing that the Uri attack was the consequence of the Indian “atrocities” in Kashmir, implying that the attackers were local residents, rather than Pakistani nationals.
Modi’ speech was a skillful mix of verbal aggression and restraint.
He spoke after a publicised meeting with the three Service chiefs, and in a significant gesture, made it a point to separate the people of Pakistan from its government, saying that the people of the country would themselves turn against their government to fight terrorism.
He pointedly referred to Pakistan’s inability to hold on to its eastern wing, and the dissidence it faces in POK, Gilgit, Balochistan, Pakhtunistan and Sindh, and said that Kashmir was being used to distract them from their real problems.
Those observing Sharif’s performance say that his heart was not in it; that he was reading from a prepared text is not unusual, but his body-language seemed to suggest that he was not quite in form.
When Sharif came to power in 2013, there were expectations that he would reach out to India as a means of fulfilling his election promises which were mainly on the need to promote economic growth.
He was also expected to keep the Pakistan Army at length, considering his own experience at the hands of his erstwhile Army chief Pervez Musharraf in 1999.
However, the army pre-empted him by getting Tahir ul Qadri and Imran Khan’s Tehreek-e-Insaf to launch agitations against him and paralyse the functioning of his government.
More recently, the issue of his illegal assets has come up through the Panama revelations.
As of now, it appears that the PML (N) is in no shape to take on anyone. As a result his ambitious economic agenda, including an opening up to India have stalled, though Pakistan’s economy is doing well and the China Pakistan Economic Corridor scheme have given the country hope.
Attacks such as the ones in Pathankot and Uri have been specifically designed to ensure that he does not stray from the path the army has laid out for him.
This path has no room for an Indian outreach. The choices before Sharif are stark. He can quietly retire from the scene in 2018 when the general elections are due, or adjust his policies to align themselves to those of the Pakistan Army.
As for Modi, he has clearly indicated that he is in it for the long run.
Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif addresses the 71st session of United Nations General Assembly at the UN headquarters in New York
By refusing to be provoked, either by Pakistan, or his own bhakts, he has displayed statesmanship.
No doubt, somewhere in the system, there will be plans to get back at the Pakistan Army’s role in the Uri incident.
But the bottom-line Indian response is that we will not be distracted by skirmishes- our aim is to win the war.
And that war is not to be fought with guns and bombs, but as Modi indicated, infrastructure and industry, employment and social change.
As for elections in 2019, Modi intends to win them.