Islamabad // Pakistan could abandon the "war on terror" if India follows up its accusations of Pakistani involvement in the devastating assault on Mumbai with military aggression, analysts said yesterday. Security officials have warned that thousands of Taliban-fighting troops could be pulled off the Afghan frontier and redeployed to the east in less than 72 hours if India masses forces on its side, as it did in 2002 after accusing a Pakistan-based group of storming its parliament. That move six years ago brought the subcontinent to the brink of a nuclear conflict.
"If Pakistan is faced with a two-front threat, obviously it will have to go for a pretty pragmatic and rational approach," said Rasul Baksh Rais, a professor of political science at the Lahore University of Management Sciences. "There is no doubt that Pakistan would have to redeploy its forces from the western front to the eastern front if India steps up aggression. If India were to attack Pakistan it would be very damaging. We can calculate the damage from a full-fledged war at billions of dollars and Pakistan would be pushed backwards 15 years."
Pakistani forces this year have radically stepped up offensives against Taliban fighters in the rugged western borderlands, concurrently waging three operations in the tribal agencies of Bajaur and Mohmand as well as the scenic north-western valley of Swat. The stepped-up efforts have won praise from US and Nato commanders in Afghanistan, who hail them as Pakistan's strongest since September 11. About 100,000 troops are stationed along the contentious Durand line dividing Pakistan and Afghanistan to stem cross-border infiltration by Taliban fighters.
While Indian allegations mount of a Pakistani link via Kashmiri fighters Lashkar-i-Taiba to the orchestrated assaults on India's glittering financial capital, no evidence has been produced. Many in Pakistan, long cynical at India's knee jerk habit of blaming its rival for most acts of violence on its soil, are marvelling at how readily India's accusations are being accepted without evidence. Suspicions reportedly focus on an abandoned boat off the coast of Mumbai, believed to have been used by the gunmen to cross the Arabian Sea from Pakistan's port city of Karachi, and on the purported confessions of the lone surviving gunman.
Asif Ali Zardari, the president, has pledged to act on any proven link with groups based here. Politicians and news editorials are urging India to share what evidence it has. But none has been offered. Indian politicians nevertheless have issued hawkish threats to move to a "war level". "We will increase security and strengthen it at a war level like we have never done before," said Sriprakash Jaiswal, India's minister of state for home affairs.
Distressed Pakistanis feel strongly that they are under two-pronged attack from Taliban and al Qa'eda suicide bombers on one hand and on the other from US forces raining Hellfire missiles from remote-controlled aircraft on to Pakistan territory every four to five days since August. The spectre of a third source of aggression, this time from India, intensifies a growing sense of siege and a belief that the outside world is plotting to cripple Pakistan so it can be stripped of its nuclear weapons.
That is compounded by fears that if troops are withdrawn from the Afghan frontier, the door will be open for Afghan-based US and Nato forces to walk in. "I think the ultimate project is to take out Pakistan's nuclear capability," said Prof Rais, voicing an increasingly popular view. "If India uses the Mumbai attacks as a pretext for moving against Pakistan, it would not be a reaction to what happened in Mumbai. It is part of a larger plan to weaken Pakistan. That is the assessment of many people I have spoken with. This is exactly what the Americans also want to do.
"Trouble has been created for Pakistan, not by Pakistan. If India wants to attack, it's part of the greater plan to squeeze it from both sides and spread instability in other areas. Pakistan will be crippled by a war on two fronts. India is not acting alone. If it attacks Pakistan it is part of a larger game plan with other partners." Pakistan's military spokesman meanwhile dismissed reports that Indian troops were already mobilising.
"We have seen reports in media suggesting suspension of ceasefire and movement of troops on the Indian side of the border," Major Gen Athar Abbas said, referring to a five-year ceasefire in the Kashmir region disputed by the neighbours. "As far as the official authenticated reports are concerned there is no such movement or mobilisation of troops. The ceasefire is holding." email@example.com