Indian air and missile forces on war footing, Pakistani armored units diverted from Afghan border
debkafile‘s military sources report that on Sunday, Nov. 30, Asia’s two nuclear powers, India and Pakistan, took their first steps towards a conventional war. India, claiming evidence of Pakistan’s involvement in the Islamist terrorist assault on Mumbai, placed its air and missile units on war preparedness, while Pakistan, disclaiming the charge, diverted its armed divisions from the Afghan border to its frontier with India.
Military experts fear a full-blown war could spill over into combat with tactical nuclear weapons.
For the Indian government, the last straw was the admission by Azam Amir Kasab, aged 21, the only terrorist known to have been captured by Indian forces, that Lashkar e-Taiba was behind the assault which claimed 174 lives, injured hundreds and devastated India’s financial capital.
This Kashmiri group has links to both al Qaeda and the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence agency.
From its outset on Wednesday, Nov. 26, the scale, coordination and clockwork targeting of the assault clearly betrayed the hand of a major national intelligence agency. Evidence also mounted that the attackers had reached Mumbai by boat from Karachi.
Five months ago, Taliban suicide killers attacked the Indian embassy in Kabul, claiming 60 lives including that of the Indian military attache. The New Delhi government then found leads to Pakistan’s clandestine service as the prime mover behind the outrage. Washington came up with the same proofs.
The Manmohan Singh government sees the Mumbai assault as a second, escalated Pakistani act of war-by-terror and cannot afford to avoid a strong, immediate response – particularly with a general election around the corner next May. If Singh braves the media and public howls for Pakistani blood and shows the same restraint as he did after the Kabul attack, he will lose his seat.
Domestic opinion is goading the New Delhi to act tough after what is perceived as the poor, slow and unprofessional performance of the police and special forces in quelling the terrorists. Indian commandoes were brought in 10 hours after the terrorists took over and it took them 60 hours to finally gain control of the three hostage sites Saturday, Nov. 29. Sunday, home minister Shivraj Patil resigned in response to the clamor followed by national security advisor MK Narayanan.
India and Pakistan have fought three wars and barely avoided a fourth in 2001.
President George Bush and his successor Barack Obama cannot hope for much headway in defusing Indian-Pakistan tension. With only a few weeks left in the White House, Bush does not have much leverage and Obama even less for pulling the two adversaries apart. While campaigning, the president-elect pledged to work to mend the fences between India and Pakistan and broker their Kashmir conflict. In the present climate, neither is looking for a mediator.