I received an e-mail from a friend of mine in India a few days ago. Raghu and I used to work together at a (now defunct) dot-com. He was the head DBA, and I managed all of the web infrastructure. Since Raghu didn't have a car and he lived nearby, I used to give him rides back and forth from work. We got to know each other pretty well.
After the dot-com crash, Raghu had a hard time finding work in the U.S. Since he was here on an H1B work visa, and the rules of the game are rigged to give U.S. citizens the first crack at any new jobs that open up, he eventually moved back to India.
His e-mail was pretty bland. He just bought a condo in Hyderabad which he's painting and fixing up. The weather is hot this time of year. Then he ended his message with "Here India and Pakistan is strongly preparing for the war. I live in south of India it is very far from war area."
The phrase "strongly preparing for the war" has been banging around inside my head for several days now and doing immense damage to my sense of well-being. My friend is living in a country that is preparing for war. There are literally dozens of ways that India and Pakistan could resolve this conflict, but their heads of state won't even agree to sit down and talk to one another. Both countries have atomic bombs and missiles capable of delivering those bombs.
CNN assures us that these are little atomic bombs, yielding a few kilotons of energy, not like our 100 megaton hydrogen bombs. As if it's somehow reassuring to think that if this war goes nuclear, they'll only be able to destroy 20-30 CITIES and kill only a few MILLION people, not wipe out an entire hemisphere of the planet. That somehow we should be reassured that if the fallout doesn't hit U.S. shores then it's OK if these two nations battle it out with nukes.
Pakistan's self-appointed President Pervez Musharraf and Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee assure us that things won't go that far. They only plan to kill each other's people a few dozen at a time. Wholesale slaughter of either side's populations isn't what we're planning, they tell us. They assure us that the fact that both sides combined have massed about a million soldiers along the border is no cause for alarm.
So, let's say that this war gets hotter all of the sudden. Let's say that the two sides fight each other to a standstill and trade casualties for a year or so. Why not use a nuke to break the stalemate? Let's say India's army is far better than Pakistan anticipated, and the Indian army captures Pakistani territory. Wouldn't it make sense for the Pakistanis to use nukes to push India back if it looked like they were losing? Or what if the opposite were true, and the Pakistanis managed to occupy Kashmir. Wouldn't it be tempting for India to nuke the Pakistani supply lines and choke off the Pakistani troops' support? Or blast a few Pakistani cities that are manufacturing arms for the front lines?
We have never had a situation where two nuclear powers are in direct armed conflict with one another. When the U.S. was battling Russia and China, at least we had the sense to do it through proxy countries that didn't have nukes, like Korea and Viet Nam. As long as all sides pretended that they were just supporting one side or the other in a far-off country's civil war, no nukes were involved. India and Pakistan don't have the luxury of that level of subtlety. If these two countries get into a large, armed conflict, there is no OFF switch. There is no reason to believe that the conflict won't escalate to include the use of nukes. There is no reason to believe that millions of people won't die.
"Here India and Pakistan is strongly preparing for the war. I live in south of India it is very far from war area."
Unfortunately, I don't think it matters how far you live from the war area, whether it's on the other side of India or the other side of the planet. Unless Musharraf and Vajpayee stop posturing and start talking, things can only get worse.