NEW DELHI (Reuters) - Tensions between India and Pakistan over the Mumbai attacks and threats to move troops to the border between the nuclear rivals are unlikely to lead to a flashpoint, analysts said on Sunday.
But the United States could get ensnared in the row and it may prove to be a setback in the war on Islamic radicals on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, they said.
“Relationships between the two countries will deteriorate,” said Kuldip Nayar, a veteran commentator on India-Pakistan ties.
“It may not come to a level where people think there will be a flashpoint or any kind of hostilities. But these are going to be anxious times for both countries.”
Indian officials have said the Islamist militants who rampaged in Mumbai for three days and killed nearly 200 people were from an anti-India group based in Pakistan.
Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari, whose wife Benazir Bhutto was assassinated by Islamist militants last year, vowed to crack down if given proof.
But security officials in Islamabad said Pakistan would move troops from its western border with Afghanistan, where forces are battling al Qaeda and Taliban fighters as part of the U.S.-led campaign against militancy, to the Indian border if tension escalated.
“It’s part of the usual blackmail of the United States that Pakistan does to take more interest in India-Pakistan issues,” said B. Raman, a former head of Indian intelligence agency RAW.
“They think this kind of argument will make the United States sit up and take notice of their sensitivities and do something about it,” he added, referring to warming ties between Washington and New Delhi, including a nuclear accord.
A former Pakistani army general, Kamal Matinuddin, also saw a wider message behind the warning.
“It may be an indirect message to the Americans to put pressure on India to de-escalate the situation,” he told Reuters in Islamabad. “Anger is natural by Indians after such a big assault.”
“They have lost so many lives,” he added. “But both countries have nuclear weapons. Their leaders have to show statesmanship and wisdom.”
Hindu-majority India and Islamic Pakistan were carved out of British-ruled India in 1947. Up to half a million people were killed in riots at partition and the two nations have fought three wars since then.
They were on the brink of a fourth in 2002, just a few years after both developed nuclear weapons capability, but stepped back from the brink after U.S. pressure and began a peace process, known as the composite dialogue.
Analysts in both countries say the long enmity has one positive aspect — the two rivals know exactly how far to push each other without crossing the line.
“We may see the composite dialogue process being canceled and steps like that but I don’t think there will be hostilities,” said Nayar.
C. Raja Mohan, a Singapore-based security analyst, said the mounting row also exposed a rift inside Pakistan.
“There are clear differences within Pakistan toward India policy,” he said.
“The struggle that is going on within Pakistan is by civilian leaders to establish supremacy over the military establishment. It’s clear the struggle is not over and it’s not clear Zardari has the strength to win in that struggle.”
He added: “This is not merely about managing a crisis between India and Pakistan. The forces that are threatening the West, the forces that are threatening the civilian democracy in Pakistan and the forces who are acting against India are all interlinked to each other.”
Additional reporting by Zeeshan Haider in Islamabad and Surojit Gupta in New Delhi; Editing by Simon Denyer and Jerry Norton