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‘Stakes are higher than ever in case of Indo-Pak conflict’

Washington: Pakistan’s dependence on tactical atomic weapons greatly expands the risk of a Indo-Pak nuclear confrontation and the most dangerous scenario that could lead to a catastrophe is a replay of the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks, a group of American think tanks has said.

“In the India-Pakistan conflict, the stakes are higher than ever,” said Stratfor – an intelligence analysis group and think tank – in its latest analysis.

Nuclear risks will grow significantly in the event of another confrontation, wrote Michael Krepon of the Stimson Center in his latest op-ed.

“Pakistan’s military leaders seem unpersuaded by arguments that mixing tactical nuclear weapons into conventional battle plans is a lousy idea,” he wrote ahead of his visit to Pakistan soon.

“Pakistan’s dependence on tactical nuclear weapons greatly expands the risk of a disastrous nuclear confrontation in the subcontinent as well, enhancing the potential for the use of nuclear weapons in either a real or perceived Cold Start offensive.

“The stakes are now much higher in any potential Indo-Pakistani conflict,” Stratfor wrote in its analysis, which is widely read in the government circles.

“The most dangerous scenario that could lead to catastrophe is a replay of the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks,” wrote Lieutenant General (rtd) David W Barno and Dr Nora Bensahel from the American University in a joint op-ed in ‘War on the Rocks’.

“The chances of such Indian government restraint in a similarly deadly future scenario are unlikely,” they said adding that if there were another Mumbai, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi would not step back from using military force in response, unlike his predecessors.

Arguing that the US should also out to current (and former) civil and military decision-makers on both sides to develop and grow bilateral relationships that could prove vital in the next crisis, the two said a nuclear war between India and Pakistan would dramatically alter the world as we know it.

“The damage from fallout and blast, the deaths of potentially millions, and the environmental devastation of even a few weapons detonations would suddenly dwarf any other global problem,” they wrote.

Observing that “there is no welcome relief on the horizon from the impasse in India-Pakistan relations, marked by growing nuclear dangers”, Krepon felt that the lead for peace talks needs to be taken by Modi by reenergising back-channel talks between the two countries.

“A civilian prime minister in Pakistan cannot take the lead is dispute resolution, but might be able to follow Modi’s lead – if the costs to Pakistan of rejecting a fair plan and the incentives to accept it are meaningful,” he said.

Stratfor said Indian and Pakistani military doctrines that evolved over the past decade will greatly raise the stakes in any future Indo-Pakistani conflict.

Pakistan will continue to invest in tactical nuclear weapons to use on the battlefield to compensate for India’s growing conventional military advantage, it said.

Introducing battlefield nuclear weapons will lower the threshold of nuclear weapons use while raising the possibility of a full nuclear exchange on the Indian subcontinent, it added.