Washington: Another major attack in India of the magnitude similar to the 26/11 strike “originating from Pakistan” could easily escalate into a regional war, scholars, former diplomats and US officials have warned ahead of the 10th anniversary of the deadly Mumbai attack.
Some 166 people, including Americans, were killed in the attack carried out allegedly by Pakistan-based 10 Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) militants. Nine of the attackers were killed by police while lone survivor Ajmal Kasab was captured and hanged after handed down death sentence by an Indian court.
Former Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) official Bruce Riedel told PTI that another attack in India of similar magnitude would result in a war between the two countries.
“If another attack of this magnitude occurs, there will be war,” Riedel, who is a senior fellow and director of Brookings Intelligence Project, said.
Pakistan’s former envoy to the US Husain Haqqani said: “With US-Pakistan relations in a tailspin and hawkish attitudes dominating the subcontinent, one cannot predict if and how the situation would be controlled in the event of another major terrorist attack in India, with clear linkages to groups in Pakistan”.
Anish Goel, who was director of South Asia in the National Security Council of the White House at the time of the 26/11 attack, told PTI that India-Pakistan war was a primary concern and a primary scenario that we wanted to avoid.
Noting that there was a lot of pressure on then prime minister Manmohan Singh “to react kinetically”, Goel said then US president George Bush and secretary of state Condoleezza Rice had to make a lot of efforts including several phone calls to New Delhi, Islamabad and leaders of several American allies to prevent such a scenario.
Bush was very concerned, and got on phone with Singh immediately, offering condolences and urging restraint, he said. Rice travelled to the region trying to cool things.
“There’s a lot of public pressure. I think prime minister Singh himself was showing a lot of restraint and was not inclined to do a counter attack right away, but there was a lot of political pressure on him to do so,” said Goel.
“The US, I believe — I don’t know for sure, you have to ask the Indian government to know — having counseling or urging him to show restraint, gave him some sort of political leeway and maneuverability to resist the domestic political pressures from those calling for a quick counterstrike on Pakistan,” he said, adding that at no point there was any evidence of military mobilisation.
“There was a sense of nervousness in the then Bush administration about a possible nuclear war in South Asia. The Mumbai terror attack started a day before Thanksgiving – a national holiday in the US – and did not end till Sunday, the last day of the long weekend. Bush not only held situation room meeting on Saturday, but also mobilised his entire administration to try and prevent escalation of the tension,” Goel added.
A senior former Obama administration official said if another attack would have happened like that, it would “quickly escalate into a regional war”.
The current government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi has already “taken a tough line” against Islamabad, the official said on anonymity.
“I could certainly foresee a situation where he (prime minister Modi) escalates those quite a bit in response to the terrorist attack. Then for the US government, I just don’t know if the Trump administration would counsel restraint the way the Bush administration did,” he said.
The Trump administration might say they (Indians) are justified, he said.
“Not only are we not going to stop you, but we’re going to help you. I don’t know that they would do, but I don’t know if they would carry the same message of constraints,” he added.