The Pakistan government’s decision to release the captured Indian pilot as a ‘gesture of peace’ opens a window of opportunity to defuse the ongoing crisis. Prime Minister Narendra Modi should seize it. Meanwhile, as the country awaits the return of Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman, we could usefully ponder the choices—strategic and political—that have brought us to this juncture.
The core strategic challenge for India over the past two decades has been to deter Pakistan from fomenting terrorism while standing behind the shield of its nuclear weapons. Previous governments learnt the difficulties of doing so over time and through serious crises. Recall that soon after the Indian nuclear tests of May 1998, then Home Minister L.K. Advani proclaimed India’s willingness to carry out ‘hot pursuit’ of terrorists beyond the Line of Control. Pakistan’s nuclear test put paid such ideas and forced New Delhi to reckon with the new reality.