Ever since the terrorist attacks on Mumbai took place, there have been certain sections of the public, political class and media that have been demanding military action against Pakistan or atleast a limited scale airstrikes against terrorist camps inside Pakistan.
Targeted airstrikes or military action can only be taken if there is high degree of coordination between Indian intelligence agencies and armed forces. Also the inputs from intelligence agencies should be accurate, specific and timely. As the Mumbai attacks have shown Indian Intelligence agencies and Indian Security agencies don’t see eye to eye. Also past experience says that inputs from intelligence agencies have not been timely or very specific. If the inputs from intelligence agencies turn out to be inaccurate and we end up causing harm to Pakistani civilians, we might have to face the anger of Pakistani people and international public.
We might initiate a limited scale military action against terror camps inside Pakistan but we would be risking ourselves into fighting a full-fledged war with Pakistan. India and Pakistan have fought three full scale wars in 1947, 1965 and 1971. The conflicts of 1947 and 1965 ended without decisive victories to either side. While we were victorious in 1971 and liberated Bangladesh, the long term effect has been that Bangladesh has also emerged as some source of concern for India with respect to supporting terror groups targeting India. Add to this, the fact that both India and Pakistan are nuclear weapon states. If public opinion in India can force Dr. Manmohan Singh to initiate a limited scale airstrikes against terror camps inside Pakistan the same public opinion in Pakistan can force Mr. Asif Ali Zardari to initiate nuclear strikes against India. What is the possibility of India achieving a decisive victory in the case of a war with Pakistan now? In my opinion, the moment India and Pakistan went nuclear sometimes in 1998 they lost the opportunity to have decisive victories to either side in all future India Pakistan conflicts.
Even a one week war with Pakistan using conventional weapons has been estimated to cost India a huge sum. If the war were to go nuclear, the cost to India could be mind-blowing. Three of India’s most prosperous states Maharashtra, Gujarat and Punjab would be easy targets to Pakistani armed forces, which would mean industrial productivity, trade and commerce in these states would affected further denting India’s economic ability. And the most important consequence of any war, the loss of human lives would be enormous in the case of a nuclear conflict. The war would also mean the withdrawal of Pakistani army stationed in their western borders leading to more terrorists having easy access to Pakistan.
If we do not understand the possible scale of human suffering that this war would cause and want to go to war with Pakistan, then we are dumb. If we understand the possible quantum of destruction that this war would cause, but would still want to go to war, then we are heartless. Any war with either the terror camps within Pakistan or with the Pakistani army is going to cause loses of civilian life within Pakistan. This would lead to public anger in Pakistan; the most obvious beneficiaries of this will be the terrorists themselves against whom we are planning to wage a war. To quote George Soros, ‘We should not become victims who turned perpetrators, creating more victims who would become perpetrators themselves creating more victims eventually’ setting off a vicious cycle.
India has everything to lose from going to war with Pakistan. We will have to bear huge loses to life and property and the war will be a huge monetary burden on us. Public opinion in Pakistan will once again turn favorable to the Pakistani army. International community might consider that we are violating Pakistan’s sovereignty. On top of all this, the possibility of a decisive victory looks very low. In the light of the all the negative consequences of the war with Pakistan, diplomacy is our only hope and the only possible solution for lasting peace in South Asia.