India and Pakistan War?

30 November 2008

The government of India seems pretty certain that the terrorists who attacked Mumbai came from Pakistan. According to news reports, the terrorists were trained in camps run by a group called Lashkar-e-Taiba, located in Pakistan. There has been speculation that rogue elements within the Pakistani secret services may have been invovled in this attack, either by giving indirect help or turning a blind eye to the terrorists’ preparations. It will take some time until information and facts are verified. However, there is a growing pressure in India for the government to take military action against Pakistan, and war is a distinct possibility.

The attacks on Mumbai could not have come at a worse time: the world economy is in trouble, a lame-duck US president, an ongoing war in Afghanistan and an election due in India. The mixture is toxic.

India can justify military actions quite easily, as long as it can be reasonably established that the terrorists were trained in camps in Pakistan, and the Pakistani government does not take immediate actions to close them completely. A war of some sort will almost certainly take place, if it is established that certain elements of Pakistani secret services or the army had been involved directly, even if the civilian government in Pakistan had no idea. It’s a huge problem since Pakistan has a weak government, which is not in total control of what the different members of the state apparatus are doing.

India can point to the war in Afghanistan: the "war on terror" commenced after the al-Qaeda attacks on US soil, which were organized, planned and whose members were trained in Afghanistan, and the group was aided and abetted by the local power, the Taleban. That was the justification for the war, which many people felt was reasonable. Similar arguments can be made here. Recently the US army has been operating in Pakistani territory, because the Pakistani forces are either unable or unwilling to help the US in fighting the Taleban / al-Qaeda. If the US could do so unilaterally, why not India?

If there is a war between India and Pakistan, a satisfactory conclusion of the war in Afghanistan, from the western perspective, will be impossible. Pakistan will disintegrate and may end up as a sinister military dictatorship, far more dangerous and unstable than Gen. Musharraf had ever been. The US has little leverage over India and it will be rather hypocritical for the US to ask India for restraint when American forces are involved in cross-boarder operations.

A military response, a demand for revenge and justice, is a natural reaction, but war would not solve the problem: Afghanistan is a good example. Much will depend on how Pakistan reacts. The omens, at the moment, are not particularly good. If India can hold its nerve and no huge internal pressure builds up, then military actions can be avoided. There may be a ‘cold’ war between India and Pakistan but that’s better than a ‘hot’ war. Most importantly, let’s hope no other attacks take place in the coming days.