Indian decision makers face a strategic conundrum: how to deter and/or respond to future terrorism emanating from Pakistan. The dilemmas are manifold: punitive action may assuage the desire of an angry public for revenge; but too heavy a response may motivate actors in Pakistan to escalate attacks in India, while a weak riposte is unlikely to convince Pakistan’s civilian and military leaders to alter their long-standing embrace of conflict against India by proxy. Both the Atal Bihari Vajpayee and the Manmohan Singh governments faced this conundrum in January 2002 and November 2008, respectively, following the attacks by Pakistan-based militants in Delhi and Mumbai. Both chose to exercise restraint rather than strike back. 

The groups that conducted the Delhi and Mumbai terror attacks in those years continue to operate in Pakistan. It is reasonable to assume that the Narendra Modi government, like its predecessors, will face a major attack on Indian soil attributed to such groups. Modi’s self-styled reputation as a tough man and strong leader—borne out by his decision to disproportionately retaliate to Pakistani shelling across the Line of Control in Kashmir in fall 2014—increases the perception that, this time, the Indian government will choose a military response....

An edited version of this article was originally published in the Washington Quarterly.