Climbing the rungs of escalation ladder too fast on the onset of a crisis could be termed anything but pragmatic. Such fast climbers soon find themselves in a no win situation, for there aren't many rungs left upwards which could be ascended without the danger of showdown, also climb down is equally haunting due to likely loss of face. This phenomenon has plagued the Indian decision making apparatus twice within a decade. After the episode of attack on Indian Parliament, hype created by the Indian statesmen cost them dearly in the form of long-drawn-out, cliff hanging style military deployment. Soon after the military build up, it was amply clear that the adventure would not achieve any thing worthwhile, yet it could not be undone, for about a year, due to the horror of loss of face on the domestic front. It is, then, surprising that the Indian side is replaying the previous script with remarkable similarity. One is therefore inclined to assume that the dysfunction of knee jerk, anti-Pakistan, reaction has become chronic in the Indian decision making process. It is an easy fix to blame the neighbour to divert attention from own lapses, avoid a domestic communal backlash, and, as a bonus, try to gain some concessions from Pakistan. While the broad framework of current Indian posturing, enacted so far, has remained a replication of the previous one, from now on, the operational and tactical level implementation could vary. There may not be as large scale deployments as witnessed during previous standoff, after all they attract international concern and set in motion a preventive mechanism to defuse the matter, which was indeed a major hurdle in the way of Indian designs' execution, during the previous run up. Nevertheless, moderate diversionary deployments are likely to be undertaken. This time around, likely course of action could be to inflict national embarrassment on Pakistan through lightening air strikes, a couple of aircraft crossing the Pakistani airspace, dropping a few bombs and running back. It is immaterial whether or what these bombs hit, just the incursion and dumping of load would suffice; manipulation through media would do rest of the job i.e. claim of strategic success, by having destroyed the so-called 'terrorist breeding infrastructure'. Indian superpower phobia would stand resuscitated, international community would adjust to the fait accompli, followed by business as usual. Sounds very simple, but it is not so. One must remember that it is neither a Lebanon-Israel nor a Palestine-Israel setting. In all probability, a stern response would follow. Keeping in view the professional acumen of the Pakistan Air Force (PAF), safe return of intruders to their home bases is rather remote. Shooting down of Indian aeroplanes within Pakistani airspace or in Indian territory, as result of cross-border hot pursuit chase, would shatter even the regional power claim of Indians. After all its not the beating which weaker side gets that makes a fascinating headline; however, bashing of the stronger side does make a juicy Breaking News. Furthermore, the option of a response in kind would be available to Pakistan, which would be easily justifiable on diplomatic front. Therefore, just after the first skirmish, the initiative taking capability would shift from Indian to Pakistani side. PAF would then have the choice of hitting appropriate targets to inflict a long lasting pain, rather than replicating a symbolic and patchy work by the Indian Air Force (IAF). Imagine a high value target on fire, for a week or so, in the heartland of India, flashed by media, the world over. Subsequently, the two states would claim, at least, parity in performance, indeed to the chagrin of India. Recall, how Indians made us a nuclear power Indians have an inherent disadvantage in undertaking envisaged course of action, whereas Pakistani side has the advantage. As total force would not be applied, and cross-border incursions would be confined to a dozen or so aircraft, the overall numerical superiority of the IAF would not be a factor in the equation; both sides would have equivalence. Now a word about our defend-ability against such attacks. Having lived with the reality that Pakistan would have to fight a strategically defensive aerial war, the PAF has developed one of the finest air defence systems of the world. As a corollary, PAF is, better poised to deal with the kind of incursions that the IAF may be contemplating. In all probability, ever-vigilant and ferocious air defence interceptors of PAF would impose very high attrition on the intruders. Yet, another momentous outcome of heightened tension between the two countries would be PAF's compulsion to divert a significant portion of air effort from its current employment, along western border, in support of war against terrorism, towards eastern theatre. Presently, PAF is making a major contribution towards containing the terrorists' fighting prowess by continuously pounding their hideouts, which are inaccessible to land forces. Any reduction in PAF's ability to pursue this objective, wholeheartedly, would not only facilitate regrouping/rearming of terrorists, it would also cause a reverse gear motion writ already achieved objectives. Prolonged standoff warranting PAF's protracted effort diversion is likely to affect its campaign against the terrorists quite severely, who may indeed get a new lease of life. What Indian statesmen need to realise is that they have more at stake in undertaking a misadventure that may appear so simple in theory. Likely outcome could be a single event parity or degeneration into battles of attrition, resulting into UN brokered stalemate. Promising crystallisation of years of back channel diplomatic effort would go down the drain, with no hope for its restart in near future. People to people mistrust would pass on to the next generation. Trust building and durable peace shall remain elusive objectives for quite sometime. Mumbai carnage was madness, enacted by unscrupulous non-state actors; adding further lunacy by a state actor would not change it to sanity. A state should not stoop down to equate itself with street gangsters. The writer is a national security analyst and retired air commodore of the Pakistan Air Force E-mail: khalidiqbal7@yahoo.com