Indian Air Force Mi-17 helicopter in Kargil in 1999

After the 2019 Balakot strike, Pakistan has an incentive to react 'more strongly' and 'focus on substantial targets' in the event of a future crisis with India, experts say. But economic, diplomatic, and geopolitical factors will play a decisive role too

New Delhi: Nearly 23 years after Indian troops emerged victorious against Pakistani soldiers after an almost three-month-long battle on the icy mountaintops of Kargil on 26 July 1999, the conflict continues to throw up lessons for the defence and strategic community.

Indian historians, journalists, and defence experts have drawn several lessons from the conflict — such as the need to be wary of “Pakistani recklessness” and to improve surveillance and intelligence machinery. Similar discussions re-entered public debate in 2020 following Chinese intrusions along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in eastern Ladakh.

Some experts, however, believe that things have changed in the last 20 years. They are offering a new argument to suggest that the reasons and conditions that kept the Kargil conflict “restrained” or “limited” in 1999 no longer apply today. Given the 2019 Balakot strike, Pakistan now has an “incentive” to react more strongly in the event of a future crisis, they added.

Arzan Tarapore, a South Asia research scholar at Stanford University who served for 13 years in the Australian Defence Department, said that while Pakistan did not reinforce its position in the Kargil conflict, it retaliated after the Balakot strikes.

“If anything, Pakistan has an incentive to react more strongly next time, should there be a future crisis,” he said.

Lt Gen Rakesh Sharma (Retd), a Distinguished Fellow at the Vivekananda International Foundation and Centre for Land Warfare Studies, agreed, saying that unlike what happened after the Balakot strike, Pakistan “will focus on finding substantial targets” as a response option in the case of a future crisis.

The credibility of the Pakistan Army — as well as the public’s clamour — will demand it, he added.

“I certainly expect Pakistan to react, however, it may not be a ‘strong’ reaction, and more like a measured response. After Balakot, Pakistan aircraft enter Indian airspace and released a bomb near an ammunition depot at Narian near the Jammu-Rajouri National Highway. But they did not cause any damage,” he said.

However, Pakistan is not economically prepared to escalate into a war, he added.

“It is struggling economically. Current inflation is almost double what it was in 1999. It also just got approval for an IMF bailout. Pakistan is not economically prepared for an escalation into a war,” he said.