Notwithstanding as to who caused Mumbai carnage and for what purpose, the outrage of the Indian leadership was understandable as they must have been highly embarrassed and felt frustrated watching the horrific scenes over three days. Finger pointing across the border was thus likely, more so in the backdrop of India Pakistan relations that have always remained fragile and bumpy. The term surgical strike thus first echoed in India and then in the world. This article attempts to explain this type of military action in the backdrop of Indo-Pak scenario. Academically, a surgical strike is a military attack which is to result in requisite damage to only the intended target and no or mininal collateral damage is caused. By virtue of its specific characteristics of speed, reach and firepower, it is the air power that is mostly employed to undertake surgical strikes. Weapons used for this purpose are invariably precision guided munitions. A surgical strike could either be a revenge such as the Israeli bombing of PLO targets in Tunisia in 1985, or the 1981 Operation Babylon-style Israeli preemption where the enemy is stripped of a certain existing or a future capability, or thirdly, it could be an attempt to bring about a change in the behaviour of the target country such as the bombing of Libyan targets by US in 1986. A surgical strike is generally the option of the stronger side. Any unilateral military action can invoke retaliation which could lead to a full fledged war. Only the stronger side would be ready and willing to take this risk. Also, it would be the stronger side that would be under chauvinistic and egotistical compulsion to launch such an action under the pressure of its public opinion and the weight of its projected international image. The prevailing environment between the two belligerents must meet certain pre-requisites for surgical strike to become an option. Firstly, there must be a just and plausible cause. A surgical strike generally happens during peacetime which would definitely invite international criticism. As such, the cause for a surgical strike has to be legitimate and the world has to see it as such. Else, a country should be in a position to withstand any international condemnation. When Israel attacked the PLO in Tunisia in 1985, the UNSC passed a resolution (with US abstention) condemning this action. Even the US expressed its disapproval but then it was Israel who could get away with it. Secondly, the attacker must have a worthwhile political objective. This could either be explicit or implicit. Besides likelihood of own casualties, there is a serious danger of escalation in every such military action. Hence, the intended objective must outweigh the risks entailed. Though not a classic surgical strike, the botched US rescue attempt at Desert One in Iran was apparently launched to rescue the held US nationals. However, the hidden objective of President Carter was to ensure the release under his administration and eventually win the Democratic nomination for the 1980 presidential election. Needless to say Iran released the held personnel immediately after Ronald Reagan took office. Thirdly, a country must have the full capability to undertake surgical strike in terms of equipment and training. This operation is invariably undertaken during peace time when full attention of not only own population but the world is closely focused on untoward events. Hence, the operation should not only cause intended damage but the attacking side must not suffer any losses. Otherwise the whole exercise can be a huge embarrassment such as the failed rescue attempt by the US. Media strength makes this aspect an acute compulsion. The last requisite for surgical strikes is no retaliation or a bearable retaliation. In addition to likely international criticism the victim country is bound to react to such an attack. This reaction would understandably depend on its politico-military capability and readiness for a response. Another driving force would the need to nurture the injured pride and the urgency of demand of own public in this regard. Therefore, besides a diplomatic campaign, the victim country could opt to launch reciprocal attacks. These attacks will have to be immediate i.e. only minutes later, else there would be international intervention and the victim country would be prevented from resorting to this course of action. Hence, retaliation would almost be certain. Furthermore, military activity may not end here and there would be a serious danger of a snowball phenomenon leading to a limited or even an all out war. A surgical strike would, therefore, become an option for a country when it has evaluated and discounted this requisite. In the ongoing Indo-Pak imbroglio it was in the third week of December that readiness and willingness of Indian air force for surgical strikes became apparent. Realising the seriousness of the situation PAF immediately deployed its defensive elements at the war locations and started 24 hours patrolling of designated areas. This was further backed up by a declaration by the Pakistani government that an attack of this nature will be taken as an act of war and that Pakistan would respond in kind and without delay. Alongside, the government's crackdown was already going on against the specific organisation declared terrorist by the UN. This ongoing crackdown has resulted in the arrest of several individuals and closing down of numerous premises. By these three actions Pakistan was able to not only neutralise the legitimacy of the Indian cause for the attack but it also clearly indicated to the Indians that such an adventure would be very expensive. Therefore, a very clear message was sent out by Pakistan to the west that it was seriously responding to UN's call but no Indian adventurism would be accepted. Seeing this, the tone and tenor of Indian leadership and their media has undergone a positive change. India is also accepting foreign envoys to discuss and resolve the situation. An Indian surgical strike has thus become less likely. While it is air power that is employed for surgical strikes, such an attack could be best countered by air power. PAF would thus be responsible for defence against such an Indian attack. PAF has always fought the IAF outnumbered and has upheld the expectations of the nation. Superior training, a strong resolve and high morale have been its key strengths. Nevertheless, PAF had always enjoyed a technological or qualitative advantage over the IAF. This edge has however, eroded due to sanctions in different periods of time. On the other hand the planners of PAF have earnestly worked and despite limited resources PAF has upgraded all it aircraft, weapon and sensors. It does have some weaknesses which are in the process of being redressed. On exhaustion of other options, disputes between nations are being settled today not by occupying territory but inflicting pain. Appreciating the significance of air power as the weapon of first choice in the present day warfare, government has been providing requisite resources for the accomplishment of PAF's development programmes and if the government maintains this support then PAF is poised to regain its qualitative pre-eminence in the near future. Though its likelihood has reduced to an extent, an Indian surgical strike in the Indo-Pak scenario remains a 'clear and present danger'. Nonetheless, India can opt to resort to it anytime because in the Indo-Pak scenario there will never be a dearth of reasons and justifications. Pakistan government and the PAF have sent out clear messages demonstrating their resolve to fight terrorism and their intent to defend Pakistan at the same time. Now it is up to India and the Western world to understand and act. The writer is an ex-air vice marshal of the PAF E-mail: