On Point: Triggering War on the Sub-Continent

by Austin Bay
June 6, 2002

Can you "tilt" in opposite directions simultaneously?

If you're the United States and the diplomatic mission is tohalt an Indo-Pakistani war, the answer is, "Yes."

The prospects for shrewd diplomatic intervention are good.Neither India nor Pakistan really wants another full-scale war. Despite thehot rhetoric, an artifact of the U.S.-USSR Cold War holds extraordinarysway. Nuclear weapons have a chilling effect on war fever. Americandiplomatic yoga -- tilting just enough in all directions, as well as bendingIndian and Pakistani arms -- should keep nukes holstered and armies leashed.

It would be foolish, however, to underestimate the danger. Aconventional war would further complicate South Asia's precarious politics.Even a "limited" Indo-Pakistani nuclear exchange could leave several milliondead or suffering from radiation sickness.

Diplomats must address the current difficult conditions, as wellas plan for possible events that could trigger a war no one wants.

In 1994, James F. Dunnigan (now editor of StrategyPage.com) andI war-gamed several Indo-Pakistan war scenarios for a commercial project. Atthat time, the "most dangerous could-be war" involved China. Here's theshort version: An Indo-Pakistani confrontation along the Line of Control(the ceasefire line dividing Indian-controlled Kashmir from Pakistan'ssector) escalated. The mobilized Indian army had a large conventionalmilitary advantage over Pakistan. China, balancing the odds, entered the waras a Pakistani ally. This "worst case" wasn't a replay of the Indo-ChineseHimalayan War of 1962. That particular game stopped with India and Chinapreparing for a nuclear confrontation.

Many of that scenario's assumptions aren't evident in thecurrent, real-world crisis. The game gave India a strategic nuclear capacityit doesn't (yet) possess. In postulating "trigger events" in Kashmir, wedidn't include global Al Qaeda-like terrorist organizations, but we did haveKashmiri Muslim guerrillas (whose activities began to increase in 1992).

Here's an updated look at the kinds of events that could triggera war. Don't read the list as likelihoods or predictions, but as emerging orpossible conditions that U.S. and international diplomacy must thwart orfinesse.

India, fed up with terrorist attacks, calls Pakistan'snuclear bluff and launches air and special-forces strikes on terror bases inPakistan and Pakistani Kashmir. India tells Pakistan it will no longer letthe threat of nuclear war prevent it from destroying terrorists. Pakistan isforced to respond by launching air attacks on Indian military targets. (Ifit doesn't respond, President Pervez Musharraf's government collapses).Punch and counter-punch escalate to full-scale conventional war.

In order to increase the pressure on Pakistan to eliminateterrorists, India decides to embargo and blockade Pakistan by sea and air.It's tough for Pakistan to rely on land routes for trade. Pakistan respondsby waging war in Kashmir.

An exchange of fire along the Line of Control becomes abattle. Indian commanders believe their troops are at risk. Indian armorbegins to move forward. Pakistani officers interpret the move as a preludeto an offensive and launch airstrikes against the Indian tank forces.

Pakistani officers aligned with Islamic extremists toppleMusharraf's government. India attacks Pakistani nuclear installations andnuclear delivery systems before the extremists can gain control of thenukes..

Islamist terrorists attack Indian military forces in Kashmirwith chemical or biological weapons. India responds by attacking Pakistan.With chemical and biological weapons already employed, nuclear weapons areno longer a distant possibility.

A pressured Pakistan, facing fully mobilized Indian forcesalong the border, launches conventional air attacks on Indian politicaltargets (cities?). The intent is to demonstrate, "We'll use nukes if youdon't stop." India doesn't interpret it that way.

Mobilizing large armies is expensive. Lack of cash couldforce a military move. The side that feels the harshest economic pinch coulddecide that it must either use its mobilized forces or back down, lose faceand suffer domestic political reprisal. One strategic analyst suggested tome that oil-rich Islamic countries might come to Pakistan's financial rescueand prop up Pakistan's forces. But who bankrolls India?

The question begged by each of these situations is, "What'sChina doing?" Watching on the sidelines? No. And no one else is, either,especially the United States. The challenge for American diplomacy is tomake sure all of these "could-be's" remain fiction.

Read Austin Bay's Latest Book

To find out more about Austin Bay and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.


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