India, Pakistan take steps to prepare for war

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Indian Army troops of the famed Gurkha Rifles on parade

A flurry of reports in the Indian, Pakistani and Western media indicate that both India and Pakistan are taking serious steps to prepare for a new conflict between the two nations, which have fought three wars since 1947, in the wake of the November 26 terror attacks in Mumbai.

According to reports from both sides of the border, Pakistan has cancelled all military leaves, put its forces on high alert, and is moving troops from the west to the frontier with India.  At least two corps of Indian Army troops are also on the move in what officials called “annual exercises.”  And Indian Prime Minister met for the second time in a week with India’s top military officers in a widely publicized gathering to review “defense preparedness.”

Meanwhile, the Indian government is warning its citizens not to travel to Pakistan, and both sides are ratcheting up their war of words.  Over the past week, India has increased its pressure on Pakistan to take concrete action against the Pakistan-based groups, Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Muhammad, that India and U.S. intelligence officials believe were responsible for the Mumbai attacks.  India pointedly delivered a letter from the sole surviving Mumbai attacker to Pakistani authorities, contending that it constitutes the evidence demanded by Pakistan of the terrorists’ Pakistani ties.  But Pakistan has refused to consider the letter as sufficient proof.

The United States continues to call on both sides to avoid a conflict that could seriously harm the American-led war against the Taliban in Afghanistan by diverting Pakistan’s armed forces from west to east. A parade of high-ranking U.S. officials has descended on Pakistan and India in recent weeks, making no bones about their strong interest in a Pakistani crackdown on Kashmiri terrorists and Indian forbearance.  However, Indian officials have harshly scolded the “international community” — which in this case can be taken to mean chiefly the United States — for not doing enough to “deal effectively” with a terror threat in Pakistan that India regards as the “greatest danger” to the world.  While pushing for heightened international pressure on Pakistan, India is also laying the groundwork to be able to say it exhausted international channels to solve the problem before deciding to strike.

In what might well be a propaganda move designed to counter India’s claims about the Mumbai attackers and rally Pakistanis behind their flag, Pakistan said Thursday that it had arrested three Indian nationals for a bombing in Lahore and linked them to an “Indian spy.”  India immediately dismissed the charge as a “ploy.”

Referring to the kind of precisely targeted Indian attack along the lines I speculated about a few days ago, Pakistan’s Prime Minister Yousef Raza Gilani and Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi warned that Pakistan would retaliate for any such attack.  Their statements were presumably designed to convince India and others that any Indian military action — even a “surgical” strike against one or more of the Kashmiri separatist training camps located within the Pakistan-administered portion of Kashmir — would lead to a wider war.

I, for one, don’t doubt that.  The Mumbai attacks have put both sides between a rock and a hard place.  Anger over the attacks is so widespread among large segments of India’s population that India’s governing Congress Party must extract significant concessions from Pakistan of a kind that no Pakistani government, civilian or military, has ever been able to give and still survive.  There is no chance that Pakistan’s weak civilian government will arrest and extradite to India anyone associated with the attacks.  It’s even unlikely that Pakistan will directly punish lower-level militants or take serious steps to break up Lashkar-e-Taibi or Jaish-e-Muhammed.  The simple fact is that the minimum needed to placate India is more than the maximum that any Pakistani government can afford to do.

Of course, the U.S., NATO, and the Afghan government have a major stake in seeing that Pakistan’s army is not drawn away from the North West frontier, but as the stand-off between India and Pakistan goes into its second month, it’s not clear what more any of them can do to avert a clash.

I’m just guessing, but my guess is that India will launch a targeted strike sometime soon.  If so, President Barack Obama will face another serious crisis just as he assumes office.

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