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Pankaj Vohra , Hindustan Times
December 28, 2008
Pakistan appears to be whipping up war hysteria with the twin objective of uniting its own people and simultaneously offering an excuse to the NATO forces for shifting its troops from the western front to its borders with India. Everyone knows that the civilian government in Islamabad is not in control of things. The irresponsible manner in which Pakistani leaders including President, Asif Zardari and Prime Minister Yousuf Geelani have been behaving suggest that they are now desperate to hold on to power.

Pakistan is a failed state, there is no doubt about that. Since its inception, the only thing that has held it together is anti-Indian sentiment. The civilian government there has little support from the Army as well as from the other major political party led by Nawaz Sharif. But if a war-like atmosphere is created, the various groups that do not back the government may finally rally behind it with the objective of facing India.

For Islamabad, shifting troops is also strategic since, under pressure from its western allies, Pakistan has been forced to engage in a conflict with its own people on the North West Frontier and other areas adjoining Afghanistan. The entire exercise carried out under duress is making both the Army and the civilian government extremely unpopular. But if a conflict or the possibility of a conflict remains, the government and the Army have a valid excuse for telling its allies that troops are needed on the other side and that the war against terror i.e Taliban and al-Qaeda can wait for a while.

Islamabad also realises that it has been caught red-handed in an act of terrorism in Mumbai. Had Kasab, the sole survivor also been killed by Indian security forces in Mumbai, it would have been difficult to prove Pakistan’s complicity to the rest of the world. Islamabad knows that realisation had begun to dawn on its western allies that terror in South Asia is different from terror against western countries. While Pakistan was treated by its allies as a partner in the war against terrorism in the West, it is the perpetrator of terrorism in South Asia, particularly against India.

But another significant development that has taken many western powers by surprise is the declaration by a section of the Taliban that if Pakistan and India go to war, it will fight along with the Pakistani forces against India. This clearly indicates that there is a definite nexus between the Taliban and Pakistan that has existed beyond the period when the US used Pakistan's proximity with the Taliban to fight the ``Soviet occupational forces'' in Afghanistan.

In sharp contrast to the hysterical utterances of the Pakistani leadership, the Indian side has acted in a mature manner. New Delhi's response has been measured. External Affairs minister Pranab Mukherjee has once demonstrated how much his experience counts for at a time when the Indian government was in a bind over its inept handling of the Antulay episode.

The Indian government would have been in an even better position vis-a-vis its internal situation had it sacked Antulay after he retracted his insinuations about Bombay ATS chief Hemant Karkare's death. In fact, it would have been a political masterstroke if Antulay was sacked after the retraction. Since this was not done, the manner in which the whole thing was handled appeared to make a  mockery of the collective responsibility of the Cabinet. In this case, the Prime Minister and his advisers seem to have erred.

Coming back to India’s response to Pakistan, Mukherjee seems to be steering the government through troubled waters with exceptional skill. He has on board even allies of Pakistan who are apparently convinced that Islamabad has not done enough to curb terrorism. In India too, people are expecting a war with Pakistan given that temperatures have been raised across our borders. But the government has not yet given up on other options. If Pakistan does not learn its lessons even now, war may be forced on a reluctant India. Between us.