Of course, Pakistan started the day with saying that its fighter jets scrambled and chased the Indian jets out, which in their hurry to escape the wrath of the Pakistani pilots junked “payloads” and went scooting into the safety of Indian skies. This time, unlike the first surgical strikes, Pakistan could not deny and defuse. India’s foreign secretary Vijay Gokhale cleared the air and said that India took out “pre-emptive” strikes against terrorist camps in Balakot in Pakistan; and that it was a “non-military strike.”

Unfortunately, for Pakistan there are no terrorist training camps in India it can target. So, it has a handicap. While “time” will be easy for Pakistan to choose, as far as “place” goes it will be difficult. It can either go for a military target or a civilian one. In both cases, it will be a “military strike” and that will be “an act of war.” That said, India had termed even Pulwama an act of war. Pakistan will most likely try to capture one or more Indian Army soldiers and flaunt them to India and the world, a likelihood India should try to avoid at any cost.

Right now, Pakistan, particularly its all-powerful Army, is a wounded tiger with a bloody nose. Gokhale claimed that a large number of terrorists and their trainers were killed in the pre-emptive strikes including a brother-in-law of Jaish-e-Muhammad chief Azhar Masood. A joint session of the Pakistan Parliament would be held Wednesday and a call has already gone to the Organization of Islamic Countries (OIC) to cancel its invitation to India’s external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj to the OIC meet to be held in in UAE March 1-2.

That said, the people of Pakistan are not a happy lot. Their confidence in Imran Khan and the Pakistan Army remains intact, but many are asking how is it that Indian fighter-jets could even get into Pakistan airspace in the first place much less escape? Social Media has turned into battleground for Pakistanis and Indians. Right now, the Indians are laughing with the Pakistanis promising they will have the last laugh. Be sure pressure would mount on Imran Khan and Gen. Qamar Bajwa in the days to come.

Imran Khan in his response to Pulwama had promised to retaliate to any Indian “misadventure” and he will be duty-bound to keep his word. His Indian counterpart Prime Minister Narendra Modi is in Cloud 9, already telling an election rally that the country was in “safe hands.” The electoral advantage to Modi and the BJP from these pre-emptive strikes can only be dented by what Imran Khan and Pakistan unloads on India in the days to come.

But there’s a time limit: Before Voting Day in India. For now, India stands united behind its armed forces. Congress president Rahul Gandhi tweeted his “salute to the Indian Air Force” and so did several other opposition leaders. Unfortunately, for the opposition parties, Narendra Modi and the BJP will keep drumming up nationalistic fervour and Pakistan by whatever action it takes will willy-nilly help raise it.

The Pakistani media, on orders from its handlers, are chapping at the bits but may not be able to hold itself back for long; it will have to go with public mood in the days to come. As it is, unlike other media worldwide, Pakistan media have not sent reporters to Balakot to “take stock.” The Indian media, the majority of them, are behaving exactly the way the Modi government and BJP wants them to: Gung Ho and pro-government.

Imran Khan has called “India’s claims, reckless and fictitious” and the two, “reckless” and “fictitious”, do not go together. Going by his character, which is not lost on Indians, Imran Khan is not going to sit back; he’ll be thinking of in-swingers and out-swingers; bouncers and yorkers to get back at India. Khan on the cricket pitch always wanted to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat and he will try to do just that in his new role, too. Pakistan will be keeping a close eye on Jammu & Kashmir and so should India. But the most likely Pakistani retaliation could be a 26/11 like terrorist strike, which could be anywhere, and anytime! (IPA Service)