If peace in Kashmir compromises the war in Afghanistan

The political flux in Islamabad could cause the India-Pakistan security equilibrium to come apart, leading to an increase in cross-border infiltration and an escalation of the proxy war in Jammu & Kashmir next spring. A resigned United States would press India to ‘exercise restraint’.

A scenario where the political turmoil in Pakistan might take a familiar way out

Media reports suggest that the Pakistani army is in an unprecedented situation in many ways. First, its deployment is operationally oriented towards Balochistan, NWFP and the tribal areas. Formations designed to take on the Indian army in the East have been diverted to fight insurgents. In addition to putting commanders and troops in situations they have are really trained for, the insurgencies are increasing the stress on the organisation and its personnel. Second, the schism within the army at the strategic level and doubts about fighting their own countrymen/ethnic counterparts has had an impact on morale. Third, the anti-Musharraf wave has not spared the institution he head, and the rank and file find themselves increasingly losing the respect of their countrymen. They are also under attack from the jihadi groups, their longstanding partners.

General Musharraf might have manipulated the operational movements and training schedules of key formations to prevent them from disrupting his political machinations. But the unprecedented situation the army finds itself in is bound to have repercussions. A coup against General Musharraf cannot be ruled out. Mutinies and desertions—especially by units engaged in battle with Pashtun insurgents—are also possible. In the event, Musharraf could convince the United States that all this has caused the price for the War of Terror in Afghanistan to go up. That to prevent the jihadis from further destablising his own regime, he needs to divert them to Kashmir. Such an act is likely to buy him support from two important domestic quarters. Sections of the jihadi establishment would welcome the opportunity to escalate their proxy war. And sections of the Pakistani army would, in addition, see this as a way to ‘keep the Indian Army tied up’ at a time when it is engaged elsewhere. Nuclear deterrence should weigh against this argument, but then, there are those in the Pakistani military establishment who believe that there is sufficient room under the nuclear umbrella.

The political flux in Islamabad could cause the India-Pakistan security equilibrium to come apart, leading to an increase in cross-border infiltration and an escalation of the proxy war in Jammu & Kashmir. Such an escalation will not occur immediately, but in early spring, after the winter snows melt and open up infiltration routes. A resigned United States—unable to shake off its ‘sunk cost’ fallacy with respect to Musharraf—would look away. And it would use various means—including the nuclear deal—to press India to ‘exercise restraint’.

Unlike in the past, it is not clear whether the drumbeat of war with India will rally the Pakistani people around their army. But as the imposition of martial law shows, General Musharraf is not the type who spares any option to keep himself in power. Is this scenario likely? Perhaps not very. It would make good sense, though, to guard against it.