Global conflict triangle? US think-tank flags possibility of India-Pakistan, India-China war? | India Today Insight

The National Intelligence Council’s think-tank warns of terror attacks and miscalculation triggering off war between the three nuclear powers?

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Indian and Chinese troops and tanks disengage from the banks of Pangong lake area in eastern Ladakh where they had been deployed opposite each other for almost ten months (PTI/FEB 16, 2021)

A US think-tank has forecast a ‘large-scale war’ between India and Pakistan over the next five years. It has also predicted the possibility of India and China ‘slipping into a conflict’.

India and China began disengaging troops, tanks and artillery from the northern and southern banks of the Pangong Lake on February 10, after a tense nine-month standoff. India and Pakistan agreed to adhere to a 2003 ceasefire on February 24 this year after one of the largest number of border firing incidents over the past year. Tensions between the three nuclear-armed rivals, however, remain mainly over the world’s largest disputed boundary.

The five-year regional outlook was released by the Strategic Futures Group, a think-tank of the National Intelligence Council, on April 7. It warns that India and Pakistan may stumble into a large-scale war neither side wants, ‘especially following a terrorist attack that the Indian Government judges to be significant.’

The report outlines that the ability of Pakistan-based terrorists to conduct attacks, New Delhi’s resolve to punish Islamabad after such an attack and Islamabad’s determination to defend itself are likely to persist and may increase. ‘Miscalculation by both governments could prompt a breakdown in the deterrence that has restricted conflict to levels each side judges it can manage. A full-scale war could inflict damage that would have economic and political consequences for years.’

Similarly, the report warns, India and China may slip into a conflict that neither government intends, ‘especially if military forces escalate a conflict quickly to challenge each other on a critical part of the contested border.’ In June 2020, a short military exchange that resulted in the deaths of at least 20 Indian soldiers exacerbated the strategic rivalry between Beijing and New Delhi and sharply affected the international perceptions of both countries.

The assessment was released before US President Joe Biden’s April 14 statement announcing a US pullout out of Afghanistan by September 11,2021, the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. Emphasising that US actions in Afghanistan in the next year will have significant consequences across the region, particularly in Pakistan and India, it warns of the security vacuum emerging in Afghanistan, which could ‘result from a civil war between the Taliban and its Afghan opponents, expanded freedom of maneuver for regional terrorist networks, or criminals and refugees flowing out of the country.’ Such an outcome would probably exacerbate political tensions and conflict in western Pakistan and sharpen the India-Pakistan rivalry by strengthening longstanding judgements about covert warfare in Islamabad and New Delhi. An abrupt US exit would also probably amplify concerns that the United States will lose interest in South Asia.

The NIC works under the Director of National Intelligence, the designated leader of the US intelligence community. The post was created in 2004, three years after the attacks of September 11, 2001 exposed coordination issues within the US intelligence community. Though the Strategic Futures Group’s judgments do not reflect official US government policy or the coordinated position of the US intelligence community, the ONI (Office of Naval Intelligence) has also red-flagged a similar scenario before the US Congress. In its annual report submitted to the House on April 9, the ONI said that ‘under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, India is more likely than in the past to respond to military force to perceived or real Pakistani provocations, and heightened tensions raise the risk of conflict between the two nuclear-armed neighbors, with violent unrest in Kashmir or a militant attack in India being potential flashpoints.’

China-India border tensions, the report said, remained high despite the pullback of some forces this year. China’s occupation of contested border areas since May 2020 is the most serious escalation in decades, which led to the first lethal border clash between the two countries since 1975.

A third report, ‘Global Trends Report 2040’, prepared by the Strategic Futures Group and released last week, predicts India trying to carve out a more independent role for itself as the US and China compete. India will, however, ‘struggle to balance its long-term commitment to strategic autonomy from Western powers with the need to embed itself more deeply into multilateral security architectures to counter a rising China,’ it predicts.

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