How will India Respond to Civil War in Pakistan?

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  • July 2013

    In 1971, India intervened militarily on behalf of Bengalis in the civil war in East Pakistan, dividing the country into two. The prospect of another civil war in Pakistan pitting radical Islamists against the secular but authoritarian military raises questions about the possibility, timing, objective, and nature of another Indian intervention.

    This commentary argues that history is unlikely to repeat itself. Indians, Pakistanis, and foreign observers have overstated the strategic boldness of the Indian decision to invade East Pakistan in 1971; the invasion was far more reactive and limited. The conditions in Pakistan today are dramatically different from the past, making a similar invasion improbable. First, unlike the Bengalis in East Pakistan, India does not have a natural ally in a conflict between radical Islamists and the authoritarian Pakistan army. Indeed, most Indians see the two sides as allied rather than inimical, and the conflict between them as the result of American presence in the region. Once that casus belli is removed—as President Obama has promised—the two sides will rejoin and refocus on India.