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October 25, 2004
Does India have any intention of assisting the US in invading and occupying Pakistan?
And should India be part of such an adventure?
What are the likely implications on India's security of such an action?
These are questions that would normally fall in the realm of scenario building and war gaming.
But according to a forthcoming book written by a well-connected American analyst, George Friedman, the US has plans ready to invade Northwest Pakistan, an area believed to be hosting the command centre of Al Qaeda.
What is more, if Pakistan collapses due to an invasion, the US and India will jointly have to occupy Pakistan.
In an interview, Friedman has said the recent incursions into Pakistani territory by US troops based in Afghanistan are part of exploratory missions. He also said the invasion of Pakistan by US troops has been delayed because of manpower shortages.
After the sensational disclosures made by Friedman, it is quite natural to ask whether India and the US are acting in concert and preparing a contingency plan to end the infrastructure of terror that exists in Pakistan.
While there is no doubt that the Americans have quite a few reservations about the way the Pakistanis are handling the presence of Al Qaeda and Taliban inside Pakistan, the possibility of an American invasion of Northwest Pakistan appears highly unlikely, at least at this point of time.
Had an American invasion been imminent, top US officials would not be heaping Pakistan's military dictator General Pervez Musharraf with encomiums.
Instead what we would have seen is relentless pressure on the general by the Americans to do more.
No doubt, at regular intervals senior officials of the US administration do make statements exhorting the Pakistanis to 'do more', but this is nowhere near the sort of pressure that the US would be imposing if they were about to launch a military operation against Pakistan.
As things stand, the US appears to have placed faith in Musharraf and are willing to go along with his calibrated strategy to wind up the Taliban and Al Qaeda bases inside Pakistan.
Equally important is the fact that while there has been a resurgence of Taliban activity in Afghanistan in the last one year, the Taliban insurgency has not attained a proportion that would force the Americans to widen the theatre of war to include Pakistan.
The question therefore is does such a plan actually exist?
And if it does, is it merely an intellectual exercise or do the Americans intend to implement such a plan if things get out of control inside Afghanistan?
The preparation of a plan to invade Pakistan is something that cannot be ruled out. All serious countries work out various scenarios and try to fashion their responses to such scenarios.
Therefore it is entirely possible that the Americans have actually conceived of a scenario in which they might have to intervene militarily in Pakistan.
Once such a scenario is built, a war game is built around it in which strategists try to work out the various permutations and combinations of what is likely to happen if indeed their country has to intervene militarily. So while it is entirely possible that such a plan has been drawn up, it is an entirely different issue whether or not the Americans ever intend to operationalise such a plan.
Moreover, the possibility of India acting in concert with America in such a plan could only be a calculation that was made while preparing the plan. Whether India has actually been consulted at the level of the government is still not clear.
What is more likely is that some Indian strategists would have been consulted to get an input as to how India would react if such an event ever took place. But it is highly unlikely that such consultation was with officials of the government who were acting in pursuit of the policy of the Government of India.
There is little doubt that Pakistan has been a headache for India for many years. Ever since its birth, that country has not been able to reconcile itself to India's existence. For over twenty years now Pakistan has been waging a proxy war against India, first in Punjab and now in Jammu and Kashmir.
Thousands of innocent people have died, and thousands of crores of rupees have been spent by India to fight against Pakistani sponsored terrorism. On at least a few occasions India has even considered waging a war to rid itself of terrorism emanating from Pakistan. But despite the troubled relationship, India has so far at least never ever considered breaking Pakistan or occupying it or even forcing a regime change on that country. India has a problem with the principle of Partition (the two nation theory) but not with Partition itself.
Paradoxical though it may appear, the fact is that while Indian policymakers believe that Partition was a bad thing to happen, they are also convinced that Pakistan has been a blessing in disguise.
The last thing any sensible Indian policymaker would wish for today is the annulment of Partition. And occupying Pakistan, whether alone or in concert with the US, would lead to such an outcome.
What is worse, it will destabilise the entire region and the fallout on India would be unmanageable.
It is one thing to work out plausible scenarios on paper and build elegant operational plans around them. It is a different thing altogether to actually implement these plans. The real world is far more complex and throws up situations that could never ever be imagined in controlled war games. If things could go so horribly wrong in Iraq for the Americans, then Pakistan is hardly likely to be a cakewalk.
Of course, like in the case of Iraq, defeating Pakistan militarily would hardly be difficult for the Americans.
But the ability of either India or the US to handle the post-war situation is seriously doubtful. Pakistan might be a small country in comparison to India and the US. But on its own, Pakistan is a very large country with an impressive geographical spread as well as a population that is close to 150 million people. Controlling such a vast country would be close to impossible especially if the occupation is not popular among the people. And the fact remains that neither India nor the US will be very welcome in Pakistan.
Had the two countries built a political support base inside Pakistan, they might still have been in a position to impose a regime change inside Pakistan. But as things stand, they have no such political leverage that can be used. But other than the weak political position, there are other very crucial issues involved in any military adventure against Pakistan. Perhaps the most important issue is that of the nuclear weapons in that country. This one factor cannot ever be ignored.
There are some reports that the Americans have an effective control over the Pakistani nuclear arsenal and that they have the ability to take out Pakistan's nuclear assets within hours. But one can never be sure of the veracity of these reports and therefore to proceed on a game plan that is based on these reports would be a grave folly.
What if the Pakistanis have spirited away a few of their warheads and missiles to retaliate against exactly such a plan? This is a danger India simply cannot afford to take.
Apart from the nuclear weapons, Pakistan's large standing army cannot be wished away. Even if such an army is vanquished, there would remain hundreds and thousands of trained soldiers. What will the occupation forces do with them. If they are disbanded, then they will go out of control and create havoc. But if they are incorporated into the new political scheme, then what regime change will the entire adventure have brought about. After all, the Pakistan army has been the source of much that is wrong in that country. And therefore to defeat it on the battlefield only to bring it back to power through the backdoor defies logic and sense.
While it makes little sense at this point in time for India to participate in any American misadventure to destabilise Pakistan and perhaps undo it, India must nevertheless build scenarios and prepare itself for an eventuality where the US without even consulting or collaborating with India will launch an operation against Pakistan. Such an operation would almost inevitably destabilise Pakistan.
India must start thinking how it will handle the fallout of such an action by the Americans. But other than Americans destabilising Pakistan, there is also the possibility of Pakistan imploding from within. The question India policymakers need to ask themselves is how they will handle the fallout of such an event.
It is entirely possible that neither of the two events mentioned above ever happen. But India must have some gameplan ready for the handling such eventualities. This is an exercise any serious country must do.
Sushant Sareen is a journalist. The views expressed are his own.