Could the War Games Come True? US Think-Tanks Have Been Simulating a New India-Pakistan Conflict for Years. in Almost Nine out of Ten Cases, the Outcome Is Nuclear

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Spare a thought for the Taj Mahal. The wondrous 17th-century monument to love shines like a beacon on moonlit nights, making it an incongruous and conspicuous landmark at a time when India and Pakistan are poised for war. So the Taj is to be covered with camouflage cloth as a precaution against Pakistani air raids. But if there is a fourth war between the two siblings (even after Tony Blair's peacemaking mission to the Indian subcontinent), more than the Taj Mahal needs protecting. The likeliest end to such a conflict would be a nuclear exchange. This cataclysmic risk is almost taken for granted in Pakistani military circles. And it is also the conclusion reached by various military thinkers and strategists in the United States.

During the past two years, US think-tanks have conducted a number of studies simulating a new war between India and Pakistan. In these "war games", military commentators and academics play the parts of leaders on each side. In almost nine out of ten cases, these simulations end with nuclear war. Indeed, the current escalation of tension--with nuclear missiles deployed on each side and Indian warships moving close to Karachi, Pakistan's largest city and only port--is a carbon copy of standard war-game scenarios that end with a nuclear exchange.

The cold-blooded rationale behind this scenario goes something like this. India, the fourth-largest military power in the world, with armed forces twice the size of Pakistan's, could outgun its neighbour. Karachi and Lahore, Pakistan's main cultural centre located relatively close to the border, are particularly vulnerable. To save these cities, Pakistan launches a nuclear strike. Precisely because neither side has very many nuclear weapons, there is a strong incentive to launch the first strike. It is simply a case of"use it or lose it".

The rhetoric on both sides hints at these possibilities. When Pakistan's leader, General Pervez Musharraf, warned India that "any misadventure" would result in "tremendous casualties", he was clearly referring to the nuclear endgame. India's foolishly hawkish defence minister, George Fernandes, replied: "Pakistan would be finished. We could take a strike, survive and then hit back." Because of the paucity of their nuclear arsenals, neither side is restrained by the certainty of mutually assured destruction (MAD). Instead, jingoistic lobbies on both sides indulge in macho posturing which betrays a complete disregard for the destruction and suffering that any nuclear exchange would inflict upon their peoples.

Relations between the two neighbours deteriorated after the attack on the Indian parliament in Delhi on 13 December, in which 14 people died, including the five suicide attackers. India blames the attack on the Kashmiri militant group Lashkar-e-Toiba and is accusing Pakistan of sponsoring terrorist groups. It has demanded that Pakistan take harsh measures against them. Already, Hafiz Mohammad Saeed, a leader of Lashkar-e-Toiba, has been arrested.

That Pakistan's intelligence service has been supporting and encouraging the Kashmiri militants is no secret. Together with the al-Qaeda terrorists, the militants have been trained in the religious seminaries of northern Pakistan, which have become the bedrock of fundamentalism in the region. If General Musharraf is serious about his promises to restore a moderate Pakistan, he will have to close down the religious seminaries.

Behind the warmongering on the other side lurks the Hindu nationalists' dream of a pure Hindu India--"Akhand Bharat"--where orthodox "Hindu Dharma" is the creed of all, and where everyone--women, the untouchables and other "lower" caste groups--knows his or her place in society. …