India: Why Victory Is Not an Option

Why would India not be able to rejoice in a victory over Pakistan?

June 5, 2002

Why would India not be able to rejoice in a victory over Pakistan?

India is playing a highly risky game of brinkmanship. Its recent deployment of forces along the line of actual control, the de facto border between India and Pakistan in Kashmir — and the extremely provocative rhetoric from Delhi have brought the region closer to a nuclear war than ever before.

India is apparently betting that it can use the new international environment created by the U.S. campaign against terror in the aftermath of 9/11 as a window of opportunity not only to suppress the Kashmiri uprising — but also to punish Pakistan for supporting and aiding the Kashmiri cause.

Its geopolitical gamesmanship notwithstanding, India does not want a war. Its leaders and most of its population understand that this is a war that they cannot win.

India — which has a 3:1 advantage over Pakistan in conventional forces, a 7:1 advantage in manpower and nearly a 10:1 advantage in economics — can easily overwhelm Pakistan in a conventional war.

Both nations are aware of this fact. In the peculiar logic of nuclear weapons, this reality implies that Pakistan, in order to defend itself, must immediately resort to nuclear weapons at the very onset of war. By that same logic, India will surely respond — probably eliminating Pakistan from the map.

Despite a likely Indian “victory”, the price would be high. The country would experience a level of nuclear carnage unprecedented in history.

Pakistan’s bombs would be directed at Mumbai, maybe Delhi — and much of the population of Western and Northern India. One can only guess how many hundreds of millions of people this would entail.

Any sort of military victory, even one which may destroy Pakistan, will almost certainly be followed by severe domestic political upheaval in India. In all likelihood, India will not survive the conflict as a political entity. It will most probably fragment into a failed state like Somalia.

Old power structures would be wiped out — as would an already stretched infrastructure. Socially, the outcome would be catastrophic as well.

Millions would survive the nuclear assault. But how many would be contaminated? Quite likely, the ones that will suffer the most would still be the poorest. It is doubtful that they would remain as tranquil as they have for the last hundreds of years.

Add the related environmental nightmare, the dismantling of many bilateral and multilateral agreements between the then ex-India and other states — and one finds a perfect recipe for further regional conflict and strife. In conclusion, India might be willing to take considerable risks. The price it is currently prepared to pay is too high for its own sake.