A million Indian and Pakistani troops face-off along the Line of Control. A suicide attack in Kashmir on May 14 leaves thirty-four people, mostly women and children, dead. The Indian army, which has borne the brunt of casualties in Kashmir, is now eager to "teach Pakistan a lesson." Pakistan has reportedly deployed the nuclear-capable, 750 km-range Shaheen missile along the border. This is South Asia heading towards limited war.

India's Home Minister L.K. Advani asserts that India "would win the proxy war like we did in 1971." Such provocative rhetoric is foolish both in its tone and in its denial of today's military reality in the region. As one Indian foreign ministry official points out, "The idea that Pakistan will cooperate in a conflict and comply with India's wishes to fight a limited war is ridiculous."

After the Kargil conflict in the summer of 1999 (the first military conflict between India and Pakistan after the 1998 nuclear tests), India's Defense Minister George Fernandes embraced the concept of "limited war." In fact, nuclear Pakistan does limit India's military options, and the military government in Pakistan is counting on this. During the Kargil confrontation, the Indian air force was never used over the Line of Control. India understood the potential nuclear consequences of escalation. That reality is as true today; New Delhi cannot ignore it.

India has been provoked. U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Christina Rocca called the May 14 attack the kind of "barbaric terrorism" that the U.S. war on terrorism is trying to prevent. A suicide attack on the Kashmir Legislative Assembly in Srinagar on October 31, 2001 left 40 people dead. Then on December 13, 2001 Indian security forces barely foiled a suicide attack on the country's Parliament (New Delhi's Capitol Hill). India sees the latest attack as evidence of Pakistan's "continued lack of action" over "cross-border terrorism" in Kashmir. After each terrorist incident, the U.S. has urged India's restraint, as Washington goes about prosecuting its own war on terrorism, leaving the Indians frustrated with America's apparent double standard.

Indian leaders must, however, refrain from drawing too close a parallel with the U.S war on terrorism. India's military capabilities do not match the United States, to say the least. And Pakistan is not Afghanistan. In the Indian Express, India's retired Chief of Navy, Admiral Raja Menon, one of the country's leading nuclear thinkers, said, "mobilizing 600,000 men and 3,000 tanks is a bad answer…The consequences far outweigh the cause…An escalatory model requires an Indian reaction at a much lower level, that includes a cross-border operation. So why are we reluctant to mount a cross border operation? Because…our strategy and our weapon systems do not give us the capability to 'prevent' the cross-border operation from turning horribly messy. In other words, the cross border operation will not be surgical because we have no surgical capability, and the consequences would escalate into uncontrollable war. But for heaven's sake, that is exactly what we are threatening the Pakistanis by a total mobilization at the border. So do we want war or not?"

All this makes Deputy Secretary Richard Armitage's June visit to the region so critical. India's brinkmanship is, in part, a means to pressure the Bush administration into expanding its focus on the war on terrorism to include Pakistan's eastern border. In its efforts, however, New Delhi is wary of entirely alienating Washington. Domestic compulsions notwithstanding, the BJP-led Indian government values its unprecedented close ties with Washington and is reluctant to jeopardize the current upward trajectory of that relationship. This gives the U.S. additional leverage to buy time and engage the two adversaries and prevent disaster.

Additional Resources:

Click Here to Return to Proliferation News