Posted by: John Elliott | December 23, 2008

India won’t attack now, but it could next time – quickly!

India’s Mail Today newspaper this morning splashes across its front page the headline “War Panic in Pak as India Talks Tough”, and reports that Pakistan “scrambled its fighter jets over nearly all major Pakistani cities” yesterday. 


Yet I have met no-one who thinks India will attack terrorist camps – or any other sites – in Pakistan, despite the noise that has been building up between the two countries since the Mumbai terrorist attacks last month.


Many people are of course wondering whether India will strike– and worrying that it might – but they can’t quite see it happening. I am sure India won’t, not this time anyway.


Why am I so sure? Because of the consequences. Pakistan would strike back. India would be blamed as the aggressor. Nuclear war fears would escalate, foreigners would evacuate, and the missiles would have done little or no real damage to the capabilities of Pakistan-based terrorists.


Furthermore, the strikes would not be a vote winner in next March-April’s Indian general election because a majority of voters would not thank the Congress-led government for putting their lives and the already-declining economy in jeopardy – possibly with lives being lost in a Pakistan counter-attack.


There is an alternative view that the country would applaud the government’s courage, but I doubt it. This is not the same situation as George W. Bush hitting at Afghanistan after 9/11 or Maggy Thatcher invading the Falkland islands in 1982. Both these actions were vote winners because troops were sent to the other side of the world and there was no chance of return attacks on the US or UK – apart from possible terrorist strikes in the US which could be blamed on the aggressors, not Bush.


India on the other hand would be hitting at its neighbour and recrimination would be instant, with all the down sides I’ve just mentioned.


So, in practical terms, is it silly of India – backed by the US – to be indulging in implicit threats of attacks on Pakistan, demanding “action” by Pakistan “or else” ?


Possibly so, though it has no option with the general election looming. Even though I believe there are few votes in a strike, Congress would certainly lose votes if it was seen to be soft on Pakistan and therefore on terror. That would open doors for voters to flood to the potentially tougher Bharatiya Janata Party and maybe even its strongman Narendra Modi


But the fact that it is bluff  is exposed by the way India’s message and threats vary day by day, while Pakistan fails to curb the freedom of leading terrorists despite international pressure to do so.


The Times of India, illustrates India’s soft approach this morning with a headline saying says “Patience Wearing Thin – Pranab Tells Envoys Will Have to Deal With Pak On Our Own”. That refers to foreign minister Pranab Mukherjee, who spoke yesterday to 122 Indian ambassadors called to India for briefings. (They have come for a meeting planned for months but finally arranged a week or so ago as part, it appears, of the current war of words with Pakistan)


Kanwal Sibal, an unusually outspoken former Indian foreign secretary, wrote in the Mail Today last week that the government’s “feeble response” was “baffling”, prompting the editors to put up a headline saying “Irresolution Masked as Restraint” – (click here and go to page 10).


Recognising that limited military action might not be favoured, he argued for “politically meaningful measures” centred around breaking off all ties with Pakistan. This he suggested would strengthen India’s diplomatic hand and saved it from relying on others such as the US.


So what is likely to happen now? Possibly what Sibal suggests, plus a ratchetting up of the confrontation, with troops moving near both sides of the border – which would frighten the world about a potential conflict in the same way as happened in 2001-02 when there was a confrontation.


Then tempers will cool and life will slowly return to normal – till next time.


Is there an alternative to this perennial play acting? Possibly, if India dared do it and resisted the temptation to warn the world in advance.


After the current crisis has passed, it could position missiles aimed at two or three known significant terrorist targets in Pakistan (well away from military establishments and urban areas,) and fire them – without any warnings or threats – as soon as evidence points next time to terrorists coming from Pakistan. It would have to decide the level of terrorist activity that would trigger such a response and leave the firing decision to three top ministers.


As the missiles went, India would telephone Pakistan and the US and say there would be no more attacks, and would also go on world television within minutes and repeat the message.


That might, just, move the goal posts and change the balance of the diplomatic games– and it would be a vote winner because the US and other countries would surely stop Pakistan responding.


High risk, of course. Any other ideas?


  1. […] stick to my view of December 23 that India will not attack Pakistan – but, alongside that, it now seems that the chances of […]

  2. astralwicks: i agree with you, stopping terrorist attacks is not just pakistan’s responsibility ..infact it is beyond their control…pakistan is itself a victim of terrorism..yes, some fringe elements in pakistan support terrorism…how different is that from us supporting tamil terrorists ?
    what about home brewed terrorism in india…maoists,naxalites or more troubling hindu terrorists trained by indian army personal..

    vishnu: War fought in 2000’s will not just be between pakistan and india…if it ever happens..bench mark for indian army should not be a failed state like pakistan…can indian army fight on multiple fronts? can indian economy sustain this hit? will american business will be comfortable to be in a region when war starts? sorry to say this…but elite indian NSG commandos, navy seal officers response to fight back in mumbai shows how ill prepared indian army is…it is beyond third world….remember war will not be just against pakistan.

  3. Everything is not so rosy in Pakistan. Over the past 60 years of thaw between India and Pakistan, it has always been Pakistan who was belligerent. All its misadventures (including 1947, 1965, 1971 and Kargil) have backfired. It has been continuing to wage war against India through drugs, illegal currency, insurgency and terrorism. However, the entire Pakistani Military and Government seems to be badly shaken this time. In the cover of a tough posture, all is not so well with Pakistan.

    India has always been alone in the war against Pakistan with China and USA strongly supporting it, although not directly. In 1971 war, USA was very close to interfering and had sent its infamous 7th fleet to participate. China and USA have always kept the supply lines running.

    However, now India is a lot more important to both China and USA. Notwithstanding previous relationship with Pakistan, it is a source of continuous economic strength to both countries.

    Apart from economic factors, Pakistan remains exposed to the whole world with the role that it is playing in global terrorism. Jihadi factories have produced terrorists who have waged war against not just India but also USA, China, UK, Spain, etc. The claims of ‘we don’t know anything’ have not gone favourably with anyone. USA is striking at will in NWFP and US agents are all over Pakistan.

    Pakistani Military is also in no condition to fight. It is heavily deployed in the Afghan border. Majority of Pakistani Army have soldiers that are of Pathan and Baluch origin. They are strongly against Pakistani Army’s operations in Balochistan and Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). Morale of the fighting forces is extremely weak. In Pakistani Army, XI Corps and XII Corps comprise mostly of Baluchs and Pathans, and are expected to break quickly.

    Entire operations of Army are now highly corrupted. There are many businesses controlled by the Army. War is least of the focus.

    Modern wars are fought on ‘oil’. Pakistan has not learnt from Kargil debacle, where it had fuel only for a week if a full-scale war broke out. India has built a stockpile of oil and is located in operational areas.

    Entire focus of Pakistani Army was to train insurgents. This can help a little in actual war. Al-Khalid Tank or MBT 2000 that is jointly developed by China and Pakistan has not been induced fully. Type 88 tank, that is the mainstay, is over 30 years old in technology. It lacks the agility and firepower of T-90 or Arjun tanks of India. M113 and M109 armoured carriers are based on a 50 year old model.

    Main Pakistani cities such as Lahore, Islamabad, etc. are well within the striking distance of Indian forces. Once Indian Army is deployed, Pakistani Army will be more focused on defending. It has only one Strike Corps, Mangla Corps based out of PoK that is also expected to be put in a defensive role.

    Pakistani missiles that have been demonstrated in media are imported from North Korea as an exchange to nuclear technology. The source for missiles has dried-up. China has been reluctant to share its missiles. While Pakistan officially claims that it has over 20,000 missiles, the real number is less than 1/10th.

    Nuclear stockpile of Pakistan is totally in US control. It will be difficult to exercise the nuclear option without the consent of USA, which is very unlikely.

    Pakistan Air Force has no answer to advanced Indian fighters such as Sukhoi-30 MKI and Mirage 2000 that are built with modern avionics and assault systems. The battle for air supremacy will be one way.

    Pakistani Navy has many old ships that were purchased through a non-transparent mechanism and what is deployed is, at times, complete junk. Pakistan has claimed to induct few indigenously build submarines with French assistance. It also does not have an aircraft carrier.

    In all, if a full-scale war breaks, Pakistan is doomed.

    Jai Hind

  4. Of course they should have done so this time, launching strikes before Rice and Brown came.
    But any strike would of course invite retaliation and the Pakistanis would retaliate even if it meant the worst for them.
    And the problem is that any hard aggression from India – or even angry words – leads to a closing of the ranks in Pakistan, whereas what we all need is to isolate the powerful sponsors of terror. In an ideal world the US (and UK) would share their approach to the latter with the Indians, but I doubt that is feasible.

  5. Bulbul pray who are the hardliners in India? Indianinamerica Pakistan is NOT a secular, democratic country…unfortunately it still follows the same policy on which the partition happened. They believe and are implementing the 2 nation theory. Will the guns disappear after Kashmir is solved? No because most of the militants believe in establishing an Islamic theocracy.

    Who can solve this? Not anybody from the other religion…that’s an affront. Somebody from within Islam has to show them the way to peaceful co-existence with others.

    Is that happening? No.

    Otherwise one day very soon we will all be snuffed.

  6. I agree with your views completely John.

  7. John,

    I belive…more then indian effort, it will be USA and president elect Obhama’s policy shift w.r.t pakistan, which will be more productive and might achieve results.

    Pakistan HAS to step up its efforts….but i am sure they will FAIL even with best of thier intentions..if it is that easy to get results with just intention ‘try to root out corruption in india?’ impossible isnt it ?

    Pakistan still has not dismantled or making effort to dismantle taliban and alqeda …forget about toiba and jaish network…how should USA respond? and the path USA chooses for pakistan is the safest action for India.

    for us all i believe we need to judge pakistan by its efforts and not by results…

    and for pakistan…they better understand , they can not get away with out making honest effort to go against terrorists ….this madness has to stop..

  8. Faced with a pincer movement of from the US and China those loopy Pakistani institutions that still believe they can use terror as a political mechanism will quickly collapse. India, the US and mainstream Pakistan can work together rather as the US, the Sunnis and Shias have done in Iraq. I suspect those in India who are advocating a more overt hostile hawkish India have either not witnessed war first-hand or have yet to understand that joining the global supply chain has a lot more to offer people than war.

  9. thanks Humphrey – but India’s not contemplating a state-on-state war, just (if anything at all) attacks on terrorist camps. The fear is that Pakistan might then turn it into such a war.

    India has so far “absorbed the attack” but is dithering (or bluffing) about what to do instead – so please do define how to “go after the killers forensically with tact and intelligence”. Where’s the expertise – Israel? Not the US presumably! Britain?

    The most intelligent thing to do of course would be to get China to deal with its friend, were that possible!

  10. Or is it the hard liners in India pushing Pakistan to make a first move and so justify retaliation?

  11. This slow burning response could be calibrated to peak in time for the elections…keeping all options open so that no opposition party can wag a finger and say ‘coward’.

    Will India go for a all out war. Probably not. But why announce to the world? If you don’t have special or covert operations; build it and take the fanatics out in Pakistan itself.

    Or better still pay the Americans to do it.

  12. The skill in dealing with terror is to absorb the attack and go after the killers forensically with tact and intelligence. When terror prompts the target nation to wage a state-on-state war, the terrorist wins — as was the case with 9/11 and Iraq.

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