The risk of war between nuclear-armed India and Pakistan has increased with the redeployment of troops along the common border, but neither can afford the cost of such a conflict, analysts say.
The two sides have raised tensions by whipping up war hype for domestic reasons since the Mumbai attacks last month, but must step back from the brink to focus on more pressing issues such as the spread of militancy, they say.
A war is even less likely as the US, a key ally of both Islamabad and New Delhi, would suffer as a result, the experts warn.
“The risk of war has increased with troop mobilization,” said Hasan Askari, a political analyst and former head of the political science department at the University of Punjab. “However this does not necessarily mean that the two countries will go to war. There are a number of considerations which impel the two sides not to cross the red line.”
Senior Pakistani security and defense officials said on Friday the military had moved a “limited number” of troops fighting Taliban militants in the tribal areas near Afghanistan to the Indian border as a “minimum security” measure.
This followed intelligence intercepts indicating that India had put its forces on notice to move to the border and canceled all leave, they said. An Indian army spokesman, however, said that no troops had been moved.
Retired Pakistani general Talat Masood said: “While the political and military leadership in both countries don’t want war to happen, this action-and-reaction phenomenon is promoting escalation.”
Both sides say they do not want war but would respond if attacked.
Indian Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee has said that “all options” are open since the Mumbai attacks, which New Delhi has blamed on Pakistan-based militants. The attacks left 172 people dead.
“By declaring all options are on the table, New Delhi has pushed Pakistan toward a limited war scenario — something which Islamabad was reluctant to contemplate a couple of weeks ago,” defence analyst Riffat Hussain said.
Hussain, the head of strategic studies at Islamabad’s Quaid-e-Azam University, said any escalation could lead to a catastrophic point of no return that no one could envision.
“As nuclear-armed adversaries, India and Pakistan cannot afford any kind of shooting war between them,” he said.
Analysts say while tensions in South Asia may persist for some time, they will eventually be defused because of international interest in the region, especially in Washington.
Askari said US and Western interests in Afghanistan would be “threatened” if Pakistan were to pull significant numbers of troops out of the tribal areas, as it would expose foreign forces to more cross-border militant attacks.
Such a withdrawal would also endanger the flow of supplies to NATO and US forces in Afghanistan, as the roads through northwest Pakistan would not be secure, he said.
Masood agreed, saying: “Pakistan should be focusing more on the tribal territories to fight al-Qaeda and control Talibanization. Any diversion will be disastrous for the country, for the region and for international peace.”