People jubilate with a Tricolour as they await the arrival of IAF pilot Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman near Attari-Wagah border. (PTI Photo)

Top Experts Decode India-Pak Relations At The End Of A Tense Week

As tensions between India and Pakistan recede, here's a chance to take examine the current situation and future possibilities. BloombergQuint spoke to a host of defence and political analysts, former ambassadors and editors to understand the situation and what it means for bilateral relations.

New Red Lines Drawn In Indo-Pak Conflict

The Indian Air Force strike in Balakot, in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa region of Pakistan, marked a departure from India’s response to armed conflict with her neighbor. Former Foreign Secretary Lalit Mansingh said the air strike marks the end of India’s policy of "strategic restraint", signalling that there will be retaliation to cross-border terrorism, even inside Pakistan.

The significance of this strike is it marks the end of India’s policy of strategic restraint. India has made it clear strategic restraint should not be regarded as weakness. 
Lalit Mansingh, Former Foreign Secretary

Pilot Released Due To International Pressure?

Pakistan released captured Indian Air Force pilot, Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman, in what Imran Khan called a "gesture of peace". In his Parliament address, Khan appealed for more talks between India and Pakistan. But was Pakistan pressured to return Wing Commander Abhinandan of the IAF? Michael Kugelman, deputy director of The Asia Program and senior associate for South Asia at the Woodrow Wilson Centre, said he wouldn't be surprised if U.S. officials were involved in de-escalating tensions.

I’m not sure if the Pakistanis would unilaterally decide to release, what for them, is a bargaining chip.
Michael Kugelman, Woodrow Wilson       

U.S. President Donald Trump said he had some “reasonably attractive news from India and Pakistan” as he addressed a press conference at his second summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un in Vietnam.

The pilot's release however shouldn't distract India from maintaining pressure on Pakistan, said National Security analyst Nitin Gokhale. “The end goal was to force Pakistan to act against terror groups in its territory.”

We are not going to repeat the same mistake of treating the release of this pilot as the next step towards de-escalation.
Nitin Gokhale, National Security Analyst

Pakistan couldn't afford to escalate the situation any further, according to Former Indian Ambassador Virendra Gupta. Any aggressive move from Pakistan would be against it's own interest, he said.

Lack Of Information

A big talking point from the India-Pakistan border skirmish was the way the two governments handled the dissemination of information. While Pakistan was quick to hold press conferences and national addresses, the Indian government decided to take its time. Three press conferences were held: two by the Ministry of External Affairs and one by officers from the Army, Navy and Air Force. The MEA press conferences were prepared statements and were closed to press questions. The joint armed forces press briefing had more detail and was also open to questions. So could the Indian government have done more?

Political analyst Amitabh Tiwari said India's response was more than adequate.

Just because Imran Khan is speaking constantly doesn’t mean that India’s Prime Minister also has to speak.
Amitabh Tiwari, Political Analyst

Vinod Sharma, political editor of Hindustan Times newspaper, on the other hand, questioned the premier’s conduct. The entire political establishment should have been taken into confidence, even calling an emergency session of parliament if needed, he said.

We’re a parliamentary democracy. We’re not an executive presidency.
Vinod Sharma, Political Editor, Hindustan Times

What Next?

Wing Commander Abhinandan's safe return to India doesn't necessarily mean India will change its hard stance against Pakistan. Many security analysts believe India's air strike in Balakot was a big shift in its defence policy with Pakistan. Former Army Chief Bikram Singh said clear timelines have been spelt out by India to Pakistan to act on terror groups. If Pakistan refuses to act, India will continue its multi-pronged approach via diplomatic, economic and defence routes.

This pause does not mark the end of the use of force by India.
Bikram Singh, Former Army Chief  

Conduct Of Our Politicians

The tensions between India and Pakistan also put the spotlight on the conduct of political leaders. Prime Minster Narendra Modi was seen talking about the IAF air strike in an election rally in Churu. He was also inaugurating a Khelo India event on the same day that IAF pilot Abhinandan was captured by the Pakistani army. Political analysts Neerja Chowdhury called for patience from India's political class and to resist the temptation to get political mileage.

Of course this issue is going to be politicised. We are nearing a very high-stakes election. But you can wait for 8-10 days.
Neerja Chowdhury, Political Commntator & Columnist

Manoj Joshi, a distinguished fellow at the Observer Research Foundation's National Security Programme, said political parties are bound to use such situations to gain electoral mileage. However it shouldn't encourage escalatory pressures, he said.