News Tip: Despite 'Intractable' Differences, Nuclear War Between India And Pakistan Unlikely, Duke Experts Say

Though India and Pakistan probably will never agree on who should control the Kashmir region, it is highly unlikely the two South Asian neighbors will resort to nuclear war to resolve their dispute, says a Duke University professor emeritus who has been researching Pakistan since 1957. "While they have serious divisions, the Indian and Pakistani regimes are rather rational on this matter," said Ralph Braibanti, James B. Duke Professor Emeritus of Political Science. "Even though there is saber rattling going on, I doubt very much they would use nuclear weapons." Steven Wilkinson, an assistant professor of political science at Duke, also thinks the chance of a nuclear outbreak is low as long as India does not mount a full-scale invasion. Pakistan, whose conventional military forces are far weaker than India's, would be the most likely country to initiate a nuclear strike if it felt defeat were imminent, Wilkinson said. As a result, "India recognizes that anything more than a 'limited' strike into Pakistan and Pakistan-held Kashmir poses serious risks," said Wilkinson, who teaches about ethnic identity and conflict resolution in South Asia. Brainbanti, author of Chief Justice Cornelius of Pakistan (Oxford University Press, 1999), said Pakistan favors Kashmir residents being allowed to vote on whether it becomes a part of India or Pakistan. India, on the other hand, does not want such a vote to occur because if Kashmir were to become part of Pakistan, it might lead to other succession movements within India. "Ideally, the solution would be to maintain this line of control that's existed since 1947 and make that the permanent division of Kashmir," said Braibanti, who from 1960-62 advised the Pakistani government on civil service issues. "The difficulty is that the best part of Kashmir is held by India in the south." The Indian section of Kashmir, he said, has had a thriving tourism industry fueled by the area's pleasant climate and beautiful lakes. "It's the Switzerland of India," said Braibanti, the founding president of the American Institute of Pakistan Studies. "There is also great emotional appeal in part because Nehru's family came from Kashmir. The people of India have great respect for Kashmir and Kashmiri culture. "The northern part of Kashmir is a deficit economy, nothing much other than lumber, no tourist attraction. If that division would be maintained, Pakistan would be getting the worst part of the deal," Braibanti added. While preserving the line of control seems like a simple solution, Braibanti said, "here you have the enmity going back to 1947 between these two countries. It is extremely difficult politically for the countries to give in." Braibanti can be reached for additional comment at (919) 489-2055. Wilkinson said a deep army and air force strike by India into Pakistan that threatens major cities like Lahore and Karachi would not only increase the probability that Pakistan's generals would use nuclear weapons, but that General Musharraf's regime would fall, just as the regime of General Yahya Khan did after Pakistan's 1971 defeat by India. "If General Musharraf falls, the danger of course is that he will be replaced by an even worse Pakistani regime, one that lacks either the will or the strength to rein in anti-Indian attacks and religious militancy in the region," Wilkinson said. Occupying large portions of Pakistan for a substantial period of time also seems an unrealistic option for India, given the huge problems already facing the Indians in policing the much smaller population in Kashmir, Wilkinson added. The current Indian strategy, he said, "seems to be talk very tough and ratchet up the cross-border shelling and military buildup on the border to scare Pakistan's leadership and the international community sufficiently that they will finally rein in the militants and prevent the cross-border infiltration into India." Wilkinson can be reached for additional comment at (919) 660-4314 or