Pakistan is reportedly moving large numbers of troops to its border with India and canceling leave for soldiers. At the same time, however, it is signaling that it wishes very much to avoid war.
Pakistan will not act first in any face-off with India but is prepared to defend itself from aggression, Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani said on Saturday. […] Gilani said Pakistan did not want war but was ready for one. “Our friends are trying their best to persuade India so as to avoid aggression … to avoid any sort of misadventure,” he told Muslim diplomats at a ceremony to mark the anniversary of the murder of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto. “But at the same time, our armed forces are highly professional. They are fully prepared but at the same time I assure you, once again, that we will not act. We will only react,” Gilani said.
Although many analysts say war is very unlikely, international unease is growing. “I think it’s more brittle perhaps but I don’t know that it’s actually going to translate into a war,” said Indian strategic security analyst C. Uday Bhaskar. “The point that India is trying to make is that we do not in any way threaten the territorial integrity of Pakistan,” he said. He said India’s travel warning should be seen in a limited context and there had been no confirmed troop movements in India.
Indian media continued its blanket coverage of the crisis, with the Hindustan Times newspaper running a front-page headline: “Pak army on the march.” “Whipping up war hysteria is Pakistan’s way of deflecting attention from its responsibility to act against the perpetrators of 26/11 or to address informed concerns that there may have been institutional support for the terrorists,” The Indian Express said in an editorial, referring to the Mumbai attacks.
The United States is urging calm, AP reports, with White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe saying, “We hope that both sides will avoid taking steps that will unnecessarily raise tensions during these already tense times.”
On Friday, U.S. intelligence and military officials were still trying to determine if the reported troop movements were true, and, if so, what Pakistan’s intent may be. And they cautioned that the reports may be exaggerated, aimed more at delivering a message than dispatching forces.
One senior military official said Friday that the U.S. is monitoring the issue, but still could not confirm assertions from Pakistani intelligence officials that some 20,000 troops were on the move, heading to the Indian border. A key concern for U.S. officials is that some of those troops may have been stationed along the volatile Afghan border, and were being diverted to the Indian side.
When one’s mortal enemy proclaims repeatedly that it’s prepared to launch a war, it’s prudent to believe him. Still, it’s hard to see Pakistan’s move here as more than a calling of India’s bluff and a signal to the international community, especially the United States, that it’s time to take the situation seriously and step in here.
As Dave Schuler observes, the movement of large numbers of troops from the Afghanistan border is dangerous even if an India-Pakistan war is averted.
Pakistan’s actions present a certain danger to the United States directly. Irregulars in the Federally Administered Territories could conceivably seize the weakened condition of the Afghan-Pakistan border as an opportunity to escalate their actions there. That would invite reprisals back along the border from the United States forces in Afghanistan. Being drawn into a war between Pakistan and India would present substantial hazards for us as would a weakened government in Islamabad.
Spencer Ackerman agrees and believes this was all predictable:
Whether or not the Mumbai attacks were planned in the Pakistani tribal areas by Pakistani militants and not some Indian Islamic extremist organization that no one’s ever heard of, clearly the predictable effect of the attacks has come to pass — removing military pressure from the tribal areas. This is why Pakistani Taliban leader Beitullah Massoud murdered Benazir Bhutto last year as well. The pattern is fairly clear.
When then-new Pakistan ambassador to the U.S. Husain Haqqani visited the Atlantic Council in June, his point of emphasis was that, despite an alliance going back half a century, neither the United States and Pakistan viewed their relationship strategically. Instead, it was always viewed through the lens of the conflict du jour. He warned that this had to change in order to solve complex problems that our countries faced. This latest mess has demonstrated how prophetic he was.
For the last seven years, Pakistan has been seen as an ally in the fight against the Taliban and al Qaeda and all other issues have been put on the back burner and all sins forgiven. Now, we’re going to have to be able to walk and chew gum at the same time — containing the Islamist militants, averting regional war, and staunching the flow of drugs and weapons. Not only are these tasks all essential, they’re interrelated.
James Joyner is managing editor of the Atlantic Council.