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India set to launch 'small war'

US Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld will go to Asia next week to try to ease tensions between India and Pakistan.

By Scott Baldauf, V.K. Shashikumar / May 31, 2002


India and Pakistan are edging closer and closer to war.

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Pakistan confirmed Thursday that it is moving troops away from the Afghan border, where they have been helping the US hunt for Al Qaeda fighters, due to the looming military threat on its eastern flank. US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld will head to the region next week to try to defuse tensions.

Indian military sources say India has secretly told the US and Britain that it will wait two weeks to see if international diplomatic pressure halts infiltration of Islamic militants into Indian territory. "This could be easily verified by monitoring [radio and telephone] intercepts," says Ret. Major Gen. Ashok Mehta, an Indian military analyst. If infiltration does not significantly drop, a senior Army official says India plans a 10-day assault in Kashmir. "It will be like Kargil [the 1999 war between India and Pakistan]," says Mr. Mehta. "The military action will be predominantly infantry led and intensively supported by the Air Force."

The short Indian military operation is designed to capture territory and destroy the infrastructure of Islamic militants quickly. The battle-field scenario, says a senior Indian military official, is premised on the calculation that it will operate under the nuclear threshold and that the international community will step in to prevent the conflict from escalating.

Within the first 48 hours, India is expected to attack the Neelam Valley Road across the Kupwara sector in Indian-held Kashmir, says an Indian Air Force officer involved in the planning. The Indian Air Force will try to destroy an important bridge over the Jhelum River which connects Pakistan with Pakistan Occupied Kashmir. But "Indian action will attract heavy Pakistani punishment," says General Mehta.

In the Kargil conflict, the Indian government decided not to cross the 460-mileLine of Control that divides Indian-held Kashmir from Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. This policy was to ensure that the "limited conflict" did not escalate into a full-fledged conventional war. The two nations have fought three wars since gaining independence from Britain in 1947. Two of the wars were over Kashmir.

In the last two weeks Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee has given bellicose speeches decrying Pakistani "cross-border terrorism" and calling on Indian soldiers to "prepare for sacrifices" in a "decisive fight." Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf has responded by donning his general's uniform, testing short- and long-range ballistic missiles this past week, and vowing that any Indian attack would be met with a swift response.

While few expect India and Pakistan to use their nuclear weapons against each other, the possibility of a bloody conventional war between two key allies in the US "war on terrorism" is shaking the international community. Indeed, some analysts say India is stealing a page from Israel's game plan to initiate their own "war on terrorists." Others see a classic brinksmanship strategy that India, in particular, is using to invite external pressure on its enemy.

"The Indians are practicing a policy of 'compellance,' " says Stephen Cohen, a senior fellow in security issues at the Brookings Institution, reached at a conference in Tokyo. "They are threatening to use force to compel another country to alter its behavior. In this case, their target is both Pakistan and the US, and they are compelling the US to put pressure on Musharraf to rein in cross-border terrorism."