One year after the Balakot air strikes when Indian fighter planes penetrated Pakistani air space with a military objective of destroying Jaish-e-Muhammad’s militant camps and in the wake of the latest outrage at Handwara, it is time to revisit India’s coercive diplomacy options.
Balakote was a consequence of much irritation India had been facing with constant targeting of its armed forces by militants funded and harboured by Pakistan. The need for retaliation became inevitable when Jaish-e-Muhammad claimed responsibility for the Pulwama terror attack that left 40 CRPF jawans martyred.
Although the consequence and magnitude of the airstrikes aroused much controversy, they did succeed in mustering international attention, as two nuclear-armed rivals were on the brink of war again. This limited military action of India against Pakistan was a product of its coercive diplomacy strategy.
This is evident with Operation Parakram (after the 2001 parliament attacks) and 2016 surgical strikes (after Uri attacks). Coercive diplomacy according to George Alexander is intimidation of one kind or another to get others to comply with one’s wishes. In India’s context, there is limited use of military force to stop Pakistan from promoting and harbouring cross-border terrorism.
However, this strategy has the potential of escalating into a disastrous full-scale nuclear conflict as seen with unanticipated escalations following the Balakot air strikes. With a need to pressurize Pakistan against further terror sponsorship and avoid a major conflict escalation, India had supplemented this strategy of using limited military action with diplomacy.