On February 14, 2019, a suicide bomber rammed his vehicle into a convoy of 78 buses carrying 3,000 Indian paramilitaries on the Jammu Srinagar National Highway in the Pulwama district of the occupied Jammu and Kashmir. The suicide bomber’s car was laden with 300 Kilograms of highly explosive RDX and ammonium nitrate. The impact resulted in a vast explosion which killed 40 personnel of the Central Reserve Police Force. India immediately accused Pakistan of having being involved in the attack. Pakistan, on its part, condemned it and denied any involvement. There are two undeniable facts that support the Pakistani claim of non-involvement. First of all, the suicide bomber, identified as Adil Ahmed Dar was a native Kashmiri who, according to his parents, was radicalized by the humiliations suffered at the hands of the Indian security forces. Second, the 300 kilos of explosives used in the attack could never have been smuggled through the Line of Control (LoC) – a closely-watched demarcation line between the Pakistani and the Indian sides of Kashmir. Lieutenant General Deependra Singh Hooda, the former Commanding-in-Chief of the Indian Army’s Northern Command expressed the same view after the attack. Later, however, General Hooda changed his mind saying that the possibility of such a huge amount of explosives being sneaked-in through the LoC cannot be ruled out. Pulwama suicide attack was the deadliest against the Indian army since 1989. In the aftermath of the incident, India’s Hindu nationalist leader, Narendra Modi warned that Pakistan will pay a heavy price for the carnage despite the latter’s repeated denials and offers of providing help in the ongoing investigation. Two weeks later, on February 26, twelve Mirage 2000H jets of the Indian Air Force crossed the LoC and dropped bombs in the town of Balakot in Mansehra district. Indian media claimed that the IAF jets had targeted and destroyed a terrorist camp resulting in the deaths of around 350 militants. The world is finally realizing that the unbridled violence at the hands of the Indian Security Forces has radicalized young Kashmiris to the point of becoming suicide bombers. Pulwama is only a prelude. India is facing a radical shift in Kashmir which has put into perspective the responsibility of its forces inside the valley In a press briefing, the spokesman of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) refuted the Indian claims. He explained that Indian airplanes did indeed cross the LoC near Muzaffarabad but they were intercepted by Pakistan Air Force within three minutes. As they scurried back towards the LoC, they dropped their payload in a haste over an open area. There were no casualties. Satellite analysis carried out by the Digital Forensic Research Lab at the Atlantic Council in the US confirmed the Pakistani version that no targets were hit by Indian warplanes in Balakot. The next day, on February 27, Pakistan carried out airstrikes against several non-military targets inside Indian occupied Jammu and Kashmir. The same day, PAF shot down two IAF aircrafts. One of the downed jets fell on the Pakistani side and its pilot Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman was captured. Emotions are high on both sides of border, more so on the Indian side. The fact that the suicide bomber was a Kashmiri and not a Pakistani has raised questions regarding the management of the territory by the ruling BJP. Since the beginning of anti-Indian rebellion, 13 million residents of the valley are under constant surveillance by the Indian Army which maintains a presence of around 700,000 personnel within the region. For the army, every young Muslim Kashmiri is a potential terrorist. The conflict has claimed more than 70,000 lives – mainly innocent civilians. Since the BJP came to power in 2014, the situation in Kashmir has become more intense. Last June, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights denounced the actions of the Indian Security forces in Kashmir. India rejected the report and ignored Pakistan’s repeated offers to come to the table. This may explain the somewhat muted response of the International community after the Pulwama attacks. The world is finally realizing that the unbridled violence at the hands of the Indian Security Forces has radicalized young Kashmiris to the point of becoming suicide bombers. Pulwama is only a prelude. India is facing a radical shift in Kashmir which has put into perspective the responsibility of its forces inside the valley. Indians will go to the polls in a couple of weeks. The BJP government is using its nationalist anti-Pakistan card in order to garner votes in the upcoming elections. Evidently, Modi wanted to reap political dividends from Pulwama by escalating the situation. The botched Balakot operation was the result of such a miscalculation on Modi’s part. Unfortunately for him, PAF’s counter operation, and the arrest of an IAF squadron leader has put Modi in a bind. He has a chance to de-escalate the situation and accept Imran Khan’s olive branch. However, from Modi’s perspective, if the situation ends at this juncture, India will be seen as having lost, and he will be held personally responsible for the ensuing humiliation. It will also dent forever his image of a strong and decisive leader. This means that Modi has every reason to escalate the situation further at least until the elections. From the perspective of the Indian state, the Balakot operation was supposed to prove its military superiority. If Balakot had been successful, it would have altered the Pakistan-India dynamics for good. India would have successfully demonstrated its capabilities of striking inside Pakistan setting the stage for further incursions. By the same token, Balakot’s failure has put a huge question mark on India’s military prowess. In the run up to the elections, Modi will love to engineer another confrontation with Pakistan but he cannot trust his air force or the army to carry out successful operations. It is tempting to equalize the current humiliation with another surprise attack, however, there is an equal risk of Pakistani reprisal resulting in further embarrassment. By unconditionally returning the captured Indian pilot, Pakistan has gained the moral high ground. It is not yet clear what Modi is thinking at the moment. He knows that if the confrontation ends here, his political rivals will blame him for humiliating India. He is already getting a tough competition from a resurgent Congress. If he loses this election, it will be the end of his political career. Narendra Modi is a brilliant politician. Despite having humble origins, he managed to reach the pinnacle of political power in his home country. Underestimating Modi will be a blunder that Pakistan cannot afford to make. There is every possibility of another Balakot like incident happening in the near future. The writer is an investment banker and has been writing articles for several newspapers and magazines Published in Daily Times, March 6th 2019.