Why India can’t do a Gaza on Pakistan

January 8, 2009

India continues to turn up the heat on Pakistan for the Mumbai attacks, declaring once again on Wednesday that all options were open to disrupt militant networks operating from there. And this, a day after Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said official agencies must have been involved in an operation of such sophistication, a serious charge by a head of government against another state.

But is India really in a position to make good its threats against Pakistan ? The question has repeatedly come up here on this blog and elsewhere since those attacks on November 26 and now in the light of  Israel’s Gaza operation, some people are again asking why New Delhi cannot carry out punitive strikes inside Pakistan.

 Tunku Varadarajan, writing in Forbes magazine, advances five reasons why India can’t do a Gaza on Pakistan. 1) India is not a military goliath in relation to Pakistan in the way Israel is to the Palestinian territories with its overwhelming military superiority. Pakistan for all is dysfunction is a proper country  with a proper army and with nuclear weapons to boot. “Any assault on Pakistani territory carries with it  an apocalyptic risk for India.”

2) The rationale for “doing a Gaza” may not be present in the case of the Mumbai attacks. Hamas are in  political control of the territory from which the attacks on the Israelis have occurred. The Mumbai attacks on the other hand, even if carried out by people based in Pakistan, were not authored by the government there and so it would be difficult to hold the entire Pakistani state culpable. So how do you go to war?

3) Israel enjoys overwhelming support from the American people, a fraternal feeling that buys it 
enviable immunity in the conduct of its strategic defence. India, by contrast, scarcely has a fraction of  Israel’s pull in Washington, even if it is probably admired far more than Pakistan.

4) Pakistan is strategically significant to America in ways that the Palestinians are not.  This is the central  front on the war on al Qaeda and Taliban and the last thing the U.S. wants is a military strike by India that would compel Pakistan to expend all its energy and resources on the eastern border rather than the  western flank that has become home to al Qaeda.

5) Finally, Varadarajan says, Israel has the privilege of being an international pariah that works to its advantage. To its critics including those who wouldn’t have even diplomatic ties with it, Israel can say “Hang Diplomacy.” India by contrast has no such luxury. “It is a prisoner of its own global aspirations-and pretensions.”

You could argue against all of these or some of these reasons. Indeed you might say that the whole basis of Varadarajan’s article is flawed given that the risk of conflict remains high. What if there is another big attack in India, again a possibility that has been discussed here and elsewhere

Will the same reasons hold back India or will it be too late then?

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