Friday, November 28, 2008

Waiting for the Other Shoe to Drop

The attack by Muslim terrorists in Mumbai has been compared by the Indians as their 9/11. The question is will they respond in kind. Sand if so, what will be the geo-political consequences? 

STRATFOR issued a Red Alert commenting on the possible consequences. 

If the Nov. 26 attacks in Mumbai were carried out by Islamist militants as it appears, the Indian government will have little choice, politically speaking, but to blame them on Pakistan. That will in turn spark a crisis between the two nuclear rivals that will draw the United States into the fray.

We will begin by assuming that the attackers are Islamist militant groups operating in India, possibly with some level of outside support from Pakistan. We can also see quite clearly that this was a carefully planned, well-executed attack.

Given this, the Indian government has two choices.

First, it can simply say that the perpetrators are a domestic group. In that case, it will be held accountable for a failure of enormous proportions in security and law enforcement. It will be charged with being unable to protect the public. On the other hand, it can link the attack to an outside power: Pakistan. In that case it can hold a nation-state responsible for the attack, and can use the crisis atmosphere to strengthen the government’s internal position by invoking nationalism. Politically this is a much preferable outcome for the Indian government, and so it is the most likely course of action. This is not to say that there are no outside powers involved — simply that, regardless of the ground truth, the Indian government will claim there were.

That, in turn, will plunge India and Pakistan into the worst crisis they have had since 2002. If the Pakistanis are understood to be responsible for the attack, then the Indians must hold them responsible, and that means they will have to take action in retaliation — otherwise, the Indian government’s domestic credibility will plunge. The shape of the crisis, then, will consist of demands that the Pakistanis take immediate steps to suppress Islamist radicals across the board, but particularly in Kashmir. New Delhi will demand that this action be immediate and public. This demand will come parallel to U.S. demands for the same actions, and threats by incoming U.S. President Barack Obama to force greater cooperation from Pakistan.

The Red Alert goes on to say that the last time such a bold terror attack on India was in 2002 and it nearly provoked a nuclear exchange between Pakistan and India

In 2002 there was an attack on the Indian parliament in New Delhi by Islamist militants linked to Pakistan. A near-nuclear confrontation took place between India and Pakistan, in which the United States brokered a stand-down in return for intensified Pakistani pressure on the Islamists. 

In the current iteration, the demands will be even more intense. The Indians and Americans will have a joint interest in forcing the Pakistani government to act decisively and immediately. The Pakistani government has warned that such pressure could destabilize Pakistan. The Indians will not be in a position to moderate their position, and the Americans will see the situation as an opportunity to extract major concessions. Thus the crisis will directly intersect U.S. and NATO operations in Afghanistan. 

The end result of this will not be pretty. 

Therefore the events point to a serious crisis not simply between Pakistan and India, but within Pakistan as well, with the government caught between foreign powers and domestic realities. Given the circumstances, massive destabilization is possible — never a good thing with a nuclear power. 

We’ll have to see how this crisis develops once things become clearer on the ground. 

1 comment:

midnight rider said...

Do you think Russia would also come in on India's side? They've always seemed to have close ties (strange bedfellows) from what I remember reading in War At The Top of the World. And how will China come down in all of this?

I remember the 2002 crisis pretty clearly. Gov't buildings were attacked. I was sick as a dog and wanted to skip Christmas festivities that year but went anyway becuse I didn't know what Christmas would look like the next year. I was happily shocked when it resolved peacefully.

My hopes aren't that high this time around.