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A Tenuous De-Escalation

Following Khan’s announcement, Indian prime minister Narendra Modi boasted, “After a pilot project is completed, it can be made scalable. A pilot project has been implemented. Now a real [project] must be done. The previous one was [just] practice.”

Modi not only implied that the impending return of the pilot was an Indian victory stemming from Pakistani weakness, but he also suggested that India could repeat its February 26 intrusion into Pakistani air space and payload release (or air strike) into Pakistani territory. One could interpret Modi’s statement merely as face-saving rhetoric. His Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) faces general elections in the spring and his standing has been diminished over the past year.

But Modi’s tenure as prime minister, combined with his electoral compulsions, suggest that there is danger that he could choose to escalate once again. His tenure has been marked by risky decisions—such as the demonetization debacleand the February 26 raid—made by a kitchen cabinet that ultimately backfired.

Meanwhile, India’s acerbic news channels are pressing Modi to stay on the path of escalation. India’s top English-language news channel, Republic, which ispartly-owned by Rajeev Chandrasekhar, a BJP parliamentarian, has proclaimed that India has “brought Pakistan to its knees” and that “India’s decisive battle has begun.”

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