ISLAMABAD, Dec 27 (Reuters) - War between nuclear-armed India and Pakistan over last month’s militant attacks on the Indian city of Mumbai is seen as highly unlikely.
Nevertheless, with tension rising and troops moving to the border, conflict between the neighbours who have fought three wars since 1947 cannot be ruled out.
Experts say millions of people would be killed on both sides in exchanges of nuclear weapons. Here is a look at some possible scenarios for Pakistan in the event of a conventional war:
- War would bring a wave of patriotism and national unity, analysts say. However, the authority of the civilian government that came to power this year after nine years of military rule, and had been trying to improve ties with India, would be undermined as the military would take charge of key decision-making.
- At the end of a war, the government would be under huge pressure to deal with the economic consequences.
- Efforts to establish stable and sustainable civilian rule could be set back years.
- India could try to stir up trouble in regions such as the energy-rich province of Baluchistan, where Pakistan says India has been meddling for years in support of separatist rebels fighting a low-key insurgency.
- Similarly, Afghans, perhaps egged on by close ally India, could revive calls for a greater “Pashtunistan” (Afghanistan has never recognised the border with Pakistan, imposed by British colonialists in the 19th century, which divided ethnic Pashtuns). - Such developments in Baluchistan and the Pashtun-dominated northwest would revive deep-seated Pakistani fears of the break-up of their country.
- The Pakistani military would effectively give up its part in the U.S.-led war on terrorism, analysts say, as it pulls troops off the western border with Afghanistan, where they have been battling militants, and deploys them on the eastern border with India.
- Pakistani Taliban militants have already said they would rally to help the Pakistani military in the event of war against India.
- Pakistani efforts to rein in militant groups fighting Indian rule in the disputed Kashmir region would likely be reversed and the groups would be given a green light, or official support, to raise funds, recruit fighters and infiltrate India.
- Public sympathy and support for militant groups would soar as they would be seen as national defenders against the “real enemy”, India.
- That would be the death knell for government attempts to convince a sceptical public that militancy has to be rooted out, and efforts to tackle it are for the good of the country and not just doing America’s bidding.
- The economy was rescued from the brink by a $7.6 billion IMF loan agreed last month. The benchmarks and reforms involved in the IMF package, as well as lower fuel and food prices, have offered a glimmer of hope of recovery in 2009/10 but war would dash that hope and the slowdown would be prolonged.
- Several economic analysts said war was highly unlikely but even greater fear of war would lead to a flight of capital as both Pakistani and foreign investors get their money out of the country.
- There would be no hope of attracting much-needed foreign investment which is required to bridge a current account deficit.
- The Indian navy would most likely try to block Pakistan’s main port at Karachi to choke off imports including fuel, though that would also disrupt supplies bound for U.S. forces in Afghanistan.
- Analysts said they doubted authorities would freeze foreign currency accounts, as they did in 1998 after Pakistan conducted nuclear tests, in the absence of full-scale war because the country’s reserve position as well as external account situation was improving with the IMF programme. However, that could not be ruled out if war broke out. (Reporting by Zeeshan Haider and Faisal Aziz; Writing by Robert Birsel; Editing by Valerie Lee)
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