In the very early days after the Sept 11 attacks on the United States, some in India, for the briefest of moments, believed Washington might be coming around to its point of view: that the problem and source of “cross-border terrorism” lay in Pakistan. Instead, an aggrieved India was forced to look on as Washington turned to its old ally Pakistan to help it fight the war in Afghanistan.
It was in that sour mood that New Delhi reacted with increasing anger to Pakistan’s support for Islamist militants targeting India in Kashmir and beyond. In October 2001, nearly 40 people were killed in a suicide attack on the legislative assembly of Jammu and Kashmir state in its summer capital Srinagar. When militants attacked the Indian parliament in Delhi on December 13, 2001 - an attack blamed on the Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammed - India mobilised for war. Soon close to a million men were deployed on either side of the border in a tense standoff that was not resolved until the following summer, and only then after intense U.S.-led international diplomacy.
To those of us who witnessed the build-up to the 2001-2002 standoff, the rising tensions between India and Pakistan - with both sides accusing the other of escalating fighting on the Line of Control dividing disputed Kashmir - bear a troublesome resemblance to that time. Then and now are bookended by the U.S. presence in Afghanistan which began in 2001 and is due to end in 2014.
In the interim was a period of relative calm on the India-Pakistan front. The two countries agreed a ceasefire on the Line of Control in late 2003; infiltration of militants from Pakistan into Indian Kashmir slowed to a trickle; violence in the Kashmir Valley - at the heart of a separatist revolt - came down dramatically. Even after 166 people were killed in the 2008 attack on Mumbai, blamed by the United States and India on the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba, Delhi only “paused” talks and took no retaliatory military action.
There were many reasons for that restraint: Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was personally committed to the peace process; Delhi preferred to focus on its economic growth; the failure of the 2001-2002 mobilisation highlighted the difficulties of war between two countries which openly tested nuclear weapons in 1998; Pakistan was preoccupied with Afghanistan.