Columbia International Affairs Online: Working Papers

CIAO DATE: 04/2010

Terrorism and Indo-Pakistani Escalation

January 2010

Council on Foreign Relations


India faces the real prospect of another major terrorist attack by Pakistan-based terrorist organizations in the near future. Unlike the aftermath of the November 2008 attack on Mumbai, in which 166 people died, Indian military restraint cannot be taken for granted if terrorists strike again. An Indian retaliatory strike against terrorist targets on Pakistani soil would raise Indo-Pakistani tensions and could even set off a spiral of violent escalation between the nuclear-armed rivals. Given Washington’s effort to intensify pressure on al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and associated militants operating from Pakistani territory, increased tensions between India and Pakistan would harm U.S. interests even if New Delhi and Islamabad stop well short of the nuclear threshold because it would distract Pakistan from counterterror and counterinsurgency operations, jeopardize the U.S. mission in Afghanistan, and place new, extreme stresses on Islamabad.