South Asia War Could Be
Biggest Since WWII
By Martin Sieff
UPI Senior News Analyst

WASHINGTON (UPI) - A conventional war between India and Pakistan would be like a battle between a giant tiger and a huge elephant.
As the two gigantic nations, the second and sixth most populous in the world, ominously gear up for what could be an enormous war, the capabilities and resilience of both of them are vastly underestimated in the outside world.
But in practice such a conflict, even if it does not go nuclear, would be one of the largest conflicts in human history. It would certainly involve the largest ground battles the world has seen since the four-year clash between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union that was the heart of World War II.
That war, called later "Hitler's War on Russia" by best- selling German popular historian Paul Carell, and known by Russians to this day as "The Great Patriotic War," saw at least 35 million human beings killed, 27 million of them Russians and between 5 million to 7 million of them Germans. Those death tolls dwarfed the losses of every other World War II combatant except China and the Jewish victims of the Nazi Holocaust.
It has become fashionable in recent years for U.S. leaders, Republican and Democrat alike, to describe Pakistan as a "failed state," a description once most famously used by President Clinton's second national security adviser, Sandy Berger.
But a vast nation of 140 million people that has successfully developed and maintained nuclear weapons and the missile systems to deliver them,
albeit with major help from its allies, can hardly be described as a "failed state." And as anyone with any familiarity at all with Pakistan knows, if there is one institution in that nation that has not "failed" but still performs effectively, it is the army.
In 1999, Pakistani forces in the icy reaches of the Himalayas achieved embarrassing tactical surprise in the Kargil conflict when they occupied
key heights, taking the Indian army on the other side of the disputed Line of Control totally by surprise.
India then deployed overwhelming force, rolled the Pakistanis back and claimed the victory. But it was neither easy nor cheap. Indian casualties are estimated to have been in the thousands.
In the months after that conflict, Indian military analysts openly warned in newspapers that Pakistani units in general appeared far more flexible and capable of rapid, surprise operations than their own far more numerous forces. It is that contrast that gives rise to the comparison and contrast between the tiger and the elephant.
The Pakistani tiger is a well-trained, well-motivated force. The best and brightest in Pakistan seek to join the army, especially as officers. Pakistani troop units move and deploy rapidly and efficiently and orders are issued and carried out with a minimum of fuss.
The Indian elephant has far larger reserves of manpower it can call upon from its vast population of more than a billion people. But Indian administration and mobilization are bureaucratically complex. India's consensual democratic system and federal political structure also add layers of complexity and slowness to mobilizing the nation's resources.
If India were to take the offensive and score early successes, taking advantage of Pakistan's current overstretched force deployment, these drawbacks could be initially neutralized. Conversely, if Pakistan were either to strike first, or be able to mount outflanking operations against vulnerable Indian formations, it could cause disproportionate disruption.
The two most recent full-scale wars the two South Asian giants fought in 1965 and 1971 were short, straightforward, and both military and civilian casualties on thin Kashmir were relatively light for the size of the combatants and the forces engaged. But a new conflict is likely to be far different on all counts.
In the last full-scale war, fought 30 years ago in 1971, Indian forces had the enormous advantage of fighting an overstretched Pakistani army torn in two between defending Kashmir and its own heartland in the west, and holding down what was then known as East Pakistan, today the independent nation of Bangladesh, in the east. Although as Muslim as Pakistan, the people of Bangladesh had been mercilessly repressed by the Pakistan army over the previous year and fought fiercely against it, giving crucial aid to India.
In any new conflict, this guerrilla, and popular insurgent factor would be on Pakistan's side, not India's. The population of Indian-controlled Kashmir is overwhelmingly Muslim and over the past 12 years they have been heavily radicalized in support of Pakistan- based and supported mujahedin insurgent movements.
Full-scale revolts and waves of guerrilla and terror attacks could prove as costly and disruptive as Soviet partisan activity did to the reeling German Army Group Center in the Battle of Byelorussia in June-July 1944.
Also, India has an enormous Muslim population of its own, around 100 million people. If even 1 percent, or one-tenth of 1 percent of them, were to be radicalized into active support of Pakistan, they could present an enormous disruptive fifth column threat on the home front. By contrast, there are almost no Hindus and very few other non-Muslim Indians in Pakistan.
However, if the war were to prove a long-term one, or even if Pakistan were to win striking short-term victories, it would be unlikely to wreck or even seriously damage the vast, grassroots patriotic commitment of Indians to defend their homeland and counterattack again.
The greatest danger that could make this war a long drawn-out one is that both Indians and Pakistanis look likely to grossly underestimate each other and the level of patriotic commitment and self-sacrifice on both sides.
The peoples of Europe thought that about one another when they stumbled into World War I in 1914. That miscalculation destroyed European civilization and paved the way for the even greater horrors of Nazi and Communist totalitarianism. The peoples of South Asia, Pakistani and Indian alike, do not want to make the same mistake.

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