Indian troop mobilisation on December 26 stepped up the war hysteria that erupted following the Mumbai terror attacks. The media on both sides is full of religious-nationalist articles and statements against the backdrop of strong historical biases and official statements. Many in Pakistan think that India may launch air strikes to satisfy its domestic public opinion. However, there is no doubt in Pakistan that the Pakistani military will respond to Indian air strikes, which could plunge the region into a new war.
If the region’s drift towards war is to be averted, both countries need to review their current policies. This objective cannot be achieved if Indian government continues to apply diplomatic and military pressures, hoping that the Pakistani government would crack. This is a dangerous strategy because Pakistan has enough military capacity and diplomatic clout to withstand India’s coercive diplomacy. Above all, Pakistan, like India, is a nuclear power. It is insane to toy with the idea of airstrikes or war under the shadow of nuclear weapons.
If we examine the developments in India-Pakistan relations after the Mumbai incident in chronological order, the initial propaganda offensive was launched by India, and Pakistani statements were a reaction to the signals coming from India. Within an hour or so of the Mumbai incident, Indian TV channels had named Pakistan as the culprit and many in the semi-official and non-official circles asked the Indian government to take punitive military action to “finally” settle the Pakistani menace.
India’s foreign minister talked of considering “all options” if Pakistan did not comply with Indian demands of dismantling the “structures of terrorism”. In another statement, he said, “While we continue to persuade the international community and Pakistan, we are also clear that ultimately it is we who have to deal with this problem. We will take all measures necessary, as we deem fit, to deal with the situation.” The Congress President said that India “was capable of giving a befitting reply to Pakistan.” India’s prime minister said on December 14 that relations with Pakistan could “only be normalised when it no longer provided safe havens for terrorists.”
What caused much concern in Pakistan were two incidents of airspace violation by Indian military aircraft on December 13, and subsequent reports of the meetings of India’s top military and political leadership as well as the meeting of the nuclear command authority. These developments were bound to cause concern in Pakistan because a strong section of India’s strategic community had been arguing for years that some kind of military action was possible against Pakistan even if it possessed nuclear weapons. They talked of a “limited war”, “surgical airstrikes” on some targets and the “Cold Start” strategy of swift and coordinated military action to capture some significant portions of Pakistani territory.
A number of Indian political leaders, media people, and retired bureaucrats and military officers participated in Pakistani TV talks shows through telephone. With few exceptions, they placed all responsibility of the Mumbai attacks on Pakistan and maintained that India could no longer tolerate these activities. Some argued that India had the right to take unilateral punitive measures to root out these terrorist groups in Pakistan. None seemed to accept the existence of any local violent or terrorists groups in India. They avoided the question of how ten outsiders could undertake such a massive and precise operation at several locations without local support. They were not interested in knowing that Pakistan was also suffering from terrorist activities, including suicide bombings.
India’s hostility was confirmed from the messages Pakistan received from the US, the UK and other friendly countries that suggested that they were using diplomatic channels to restrain the Indian government from taking unilateral military action against Pakistan.
These developments brought Pakistan’s defensive religio-nationalism to the surface and gave a wide opportunity to extreme right wing, Islamist and pro-militancy elements to argue that the real threat came from India rather than the Taliban and other militant groups. They favoured the transfer of Pakistani troops from the tribal areas and the Pakistan-Afghan border to the India-Pakistan border in preparation for a possible Indian attack.
Pakistan’s official and semi-official circles issued tough statements to reassure the ordinary people that Pakistan was determined to withstand Indian pressure and would fight back if attacked. Against this backdrop, Pakistan Air Force aircraft flew over the major cities to reassure people that the country’s air defences were alert to any possible airstrike by India. India’s troop movement towards the border on December 26 led to Pakistan’s counter-mobilisation.
War does not serve Indian or Pakistani interests. It will undermine their development processes, increase the miseries of the common people and exacerbate internal socio-economic problems in the post-war period without assuring elimination of terrorism.
War or high degree of hostility will have more negative implications for India, which is aiming to play a regional and global role and wants to be an active player in the globalisation process. The Indian economy is more integrated with the global economy and it gets more western investment than Pakistan. In the case of Pakistan, there is little new investment from western countries with the exception of financial transactions relating to the on-going undertakings of multinational corporations.
India’s connections with international economic processes would receive a major setback if the current environment of hostility and tension persists. International trade and investment related visits and transactions would slow down or get suspended. India’s business and industrial community cannot be happy with the present state of affairs and they are not expected to favour any armed confrontation with Pakistan.
Trade between India and Pakistan will also be suspended, which would result in greater loss for India. The balance of India-Pakistan trade is decisively in favour of India, whose exports to Pakistan are three to four times greater than what Pakistan exports to India. India’s trade with Afghanistan through Pakistan’s land route will also be discontinued.
War will also have a negative impact on US/NATO efforts to stabilise Afghanistan because Pakistan will not only move its troops to the eastern borders but the transit of American/NATO goods from Karachi to Afghanistan will be stopped because sea lanes and transit through Pakistan would become unsafe.
War amounts to playing into the hands of terrorist groups who want these two countries to go to war. This will give them greater freedom of action because Pakistan would be engaged on the eastern border. Terrorism can be contained only through India-Pakistan cooperation. India should avail the Pakistani offer to take action against such elements by providing credible evidence of involvement of Pakistan-based elements. The deployment of troops on the border is a dangerous strategy because it can spin out of control, plunging the whole region into the most dangerous situation, with extremely negative implications for the rest of the world.
India’s road to regional leadership and eminence at the global level passes through the capitals of its neighbouring states, especially Pakistan. India cannot achieve its political agenda or control terrorism by engaging in military brinkmanship or war with Pakistan, especially when both countries possess nuclear weapons.
Dr Hasan-Askari Rizvi is a political and defence analyst