Not really a diary, just a heads-up.
This Al-Jazeera headline story this morning claims that Pakistani forces are on “red alert.”
The text of the article is a little jumbled and diffuse, suggesting that Al-Jazeera’s Pakistani sources are all over the map and are contradicting one another.
The terrorist attack on Mumbai last month may have forced the Indian government’s hand. Parliamentary elections must be held in India by May, 2009. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s Congress Party-led government, though it has exercised considerable restraint vis-a-vis Pakistan for years in the face of Pakistani support for the insurgency in Kashmir, the December, 2001 attack on the Indian Parliament (which almost led to war by the spring of 2002), and now the commando-style strike on Mumbai, may now feel compelled to make a military response. The Indians are convinced that these attacks are planned and launched from Pakistan with the assistance of elements of the Interservices Intelligence Directorate of the Pakistani military.
Singh’s government is under enormous pressure to do something besides exhibit restraint and patience. If it does nothing, the right-wing Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) will surely beat the jingoist campaign drums and stand a good chance of winning enough seats to lead the next government.
Sheer speculation: Indian Prime Minister Singh and his key advisers may have concluded that a few limited “surgical” air strikes against terrorist training camps in Pakistan may sate the Indian public’s appetite for revenge and provide a boost for the Congress Party in the upcoming elections, which would very likely be called early–within a few weeks of the air strikes in order to ride the resulting patriotic wave.
Unfortunately, wars between India and Pakistan rarely turn out so neatly. And now both nations are nuclear powers. Pakistan may perceive Indian strikes to represent an “existential threat” which would justify an escalation to a nuclear response. Pakistan’s economy is in a state of collapse, and its fragile, weak parliamentary leadership is extraordinarily deferential to General Ashfaq Pervez Kiyani. Several dozens of nuclear weapons are stored in depots on Pakistani territory under control of a military which is infiltrated by sympathizers to the cause of the Taliban in Afghanistan and to the jihadist agenda of Al-Qaeda.
Yes, the economies of the industrial world are disintegrating and require attention. Yes, the U.S. auto industry and entire financial sector require attention and restructuring. But the planet’s single most serious threat at the moment lies in the possibility of a war between India and Pakistan that could lead to a nuclear exchange, the precipitous collapse of Pakistan as a nation state, and Al-Qaeda’s acquisition of loose Pakistani nukes in the ensuing chaos.
If today’s somewhat sensational Al-Jazeera report accurately reflects rapidly escalating tensions along the Indian-Pakistani border, Admiral Mullen, Secretary Gates, and Secretary Rice need to go to New Delhi and Islamabad immediately to try to tamp down tensions. If they decide instead to stay in Washington or ski at Jackson Hole to enjoy a quiet holiday season, the Bush/Cheney Administration once again will be guilty of the kind of indolence and inattention that amounts to criminal negligence–and the consequences may well be dire beyond what any of us can imagine.