In his book Choices — Inside the Making of India’s Foreign Policy, former National Security Adviser Shiv Shankar Menon writes that the reason India did not take the route of military retaliation against Pakistan after 26/11 was that there was more to be gained from not falling to that temptation.
In the first place, an Indian military attack on Pakistan would have pushed back the terrorist attack on Mumbai from Pakistani soil, forcing the world to focus on the spectre of war between two nuclear-armed nations; second, it would have united civilian Pakistan behind the Army, whose national image had descended several notches in the newly democratic atmosphere suffused with popular anger over Benazir Bhutto’s assassination.
A war with India was exactly what Pakistan wanted to buttress its internal standing. By not playing into the Pakistan Army’s hands, Menon says, India managed to bring international attention to the India-focused terrorist infrastructure in Pakistan — before 26/11, the US was worried only about getting Osama bin Laden and Pakistan-based Taliban groups that were targeting it.
But Menon also noted that should there be another attack from Pakistan, with or without visible backing from the Pakistani state, it would be “virtually impossible” for any government of India to make the same choice again, mainly because of Pakistan’s stubborn refusal to act against the perpetrators of 26/11. “The circumstances of November 2008 no longer exist and are unlikely to be replicated in the future,” he warned.