- 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
- 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
- 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
- In 1999, Pakistani forces in the icy reaches of the Himalayas
achieved embarrassing tactical surprise in the Kargil conflict when they
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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.