The former American ambassador to India, Robert Blackwill, made the speculations public in February when he said that the next time India faces a 26/11-type terrorist attack, the country might consider going to war with Narendra Modi as prime minister. Blackwill, a Harvard academic who has researched the Asian alliances of the United States of America, was not kite-flying in solitude. During Barack Obama's recent India visit and beneath all the visible Obama-Modi bonhomie, the US security and intelligence officials accompanying the president, or in some way connected with his visit, were all involved in a detailed side exercise to assess what India might do if attacked by terrorists the next time on with Modi in the top job. Blackwill said what many in the US security-intelligence establishment seemed to strongly believe that though previous Indian prime ministers from Indira Gandhi to Manmohan Singh had considered the war option from time to time when hit by bloody terror attacks from Pakistan, it is Modi who could actually exercise the war option.
A popular - and populist - prime minister, who loves playing to the gallery and projecting himself as a modern day 'iron man' like Sardar Patel, and one whose political grooming as a fierce Hindu nationalist makes it incumbent on him to hit out strongly at Pakistan at the first opportunity, may not act with the kind of restraint that Atal Bihari Vajpayee displayed after the terrorist attack on Parliament when he mobilized the entire Indian army (Operation Parakram) but did not finally go to war.
Vajpayee, more than any Indian prime minister, had good reasons to make war on Pakistan as someone who had gone to Lahore to make durable peace and then been hit by Kargil, Kandahar, and finally the assault on Parliament. But he limited the Kargil campaign to a defensive effort to eject intruders from Indian territory, avoided pressures to do an Entebbe at Kandahar, and then deployed the entire Indian army without finally going to war with Pakistan. The feeling in Washington is that Modi is no Vajpayee. The fierce Indian riposte in artillery duels across the Line of Control seems to have confirmed American impressions that they need to work on developing a proper response to a scenario when India faces another Parliament attack or 26/11, and then decides to go to war.
A war between two nuclear-armed arch rivals has been Washington's worst case scenario in Asia, and Modi may make that happen is the feeling. As part of its ongoing exercise to defuse India-Pakistan tensions , Obama has done his bit to 'encourage'(some say, incentivize) Modi to resume dialogue with the Nawaz Sharif administration in view of Sharif's determined onslaught against the Pakistani Talibans after the Peshawar school attack. That has produced some results - the new foreign secretary, S. Jaishankar has visited Islamabad, although as part of a larger "Saarc yatra". But it is now emerging that Modi and his security-intelligence establishment are also confabulating on possible responses to a terror strike from Pakistan that some see as a possibility in the not-too-distant future.