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Odds not in favour of India-Pak war, says expert

January 12, 2009
Stephen P Cohen, Senior Fellow, Foreign Policy and head of the South Asia Program at the prestigious Washington, DC-based think-tank, the Brookings Institution, visited India last month to attend the pan-Indian Institute of Technology 2008, the fifth annual global IIT alumni conference in Chennai.

While there, the author of books on the armies of India and Pakistan, and noted authority on the security policies of both countries, caught up with the developing situation in the wake of the 26/11 terrorist attacks on Mumbai.

Cohen spoke to rediff India Abroad's Suman Guha Mozumder:

What is your reading of the government of India's response to the 26/11 terror attacks? Will India be able to get Pakistan to cooperate in prosecuting those involved?

While I was in India I sensed anger, frustration, and a bit of fear -- the Mumbai attacks affected Indians pretty much the same way as 9/11 affected Americans. This, of course, was part of the objective of the terrorists -- to strike terror and fear.

However, the official Indian response has been suitably cautious. Despite some very bad police work, bad intelligence and also the revelation that the Indian security apparatus was not prepared for this kind of event, the government's response has been prudent.

There were unwise statements by some ministers, but we know that in crisis such as this, there will be a very high degree of misinformation and people say things that they may want to take back after the fact. The ground truth is that the Indian government understands that retaliatory escalation may make people feel good, which is not an inconsiderable factor in a democracy, but the problem cannot be addressed by India alone, and any military escalation puts India back where it was in 2001-2002, facing a prepared, competent, nuclear-armed rival.

This is an intolerable situation for any Indian government, but as Kishore Mahbubani (Dean, Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, Singapore, and former Singaporea ambassador to the United Nations) said during one of our sessions, India needs to think about what kind of Pakistan it wants as a neighbour 20 years from now. So far, it is fundamentally undecided as to whether it wants to befriend Pakistan, co-opt it, see it destroyed, or ignore it.

Image: Stephen P Cohen at the Pan-IIT 2008 event in Chennai. Photograph: Sreeram Selvaraj

Also see: 'Mumbai model for future attacks'

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