Friday 08 Oct 2021 | 02:14 | SYDNEY
Friday 08 Oct 2021 | 02:14 | SYDNEY

Mumbai: False rumours of war


Rory Medcalf


2 December 2008 14:45

The world’s media is leaping to the predictable conclusion that the sequel to the Mumbai massacre will be a military confrontation between India and Pakistan, with serious prospects of war and the chilling possibility that it will turn nuclear. Australian media organisations, including SBS (which led its Monday night TV news bulletin with talk of military tensions in its ‘India Blames Pakistan’ story) and The Australian (which highlighted war talk in its Monday edition), have done their bit. 

This panic is misleading and will help generate needless heat and confusion. As I argue in today’s Australian Financial Review, the Indian Government has good reasons not to repeat the policy of its predecessor, which in 2002 mobilised hundreds of thousands of troops and threatened a war it sensibly did not, deep down, want to prosecute. This time, it is Pakistan that has quickly whipped up the rumours of war, warning that if India mobilises, it will have to divert troops from the Afghan frontier, and thus weaken the anti-Taliban effort.

Western governments, including Australia’s, should be careful not to allow Islamabad to use a so-far imaginary war threat from India as a rationale for doing less than the utmost to fight the Taliban.

Yes, Kevin Rudd and Stephen Smith should make the right noises about restraint. Yes, all countries should be concerned about where the consequences of Mumbai could lead. But it is too earlier to buy into nuclear war hysteria.

The 2001-02 drumbeat of Indian public and official opinion calling for war and hot pursuit of terrorists into Pakistan and Pakistani Kashmir is thankfully absent this time – so far. As someone who spent an especially uncomfortable summer in New Delhi during the 2002 crisis, I have nothing against highlighting the dangers of potential nuclear conflict in South Asia. Next time an Indian or Pakistani government starts making irresponsible threats of major war, then by all means media and statesmen alike should start ringing the alarm bells. But crying wolf helps nobody.

For a sober analysis of the real dynamics of war and peace between India and Pakistan, against the backdrop of terrorism, nuclear weapons and US diplomatic intervention, I recommend this excellent piece from the Stimson Center.

Photo by Flickr user Jingye, used under a Creative Commons license.