Once again, terrorists struck, slaughtering 174 people in Mumbai in a crisis that may have been malevolently designed to blast the adversarial nuclear neighbors India and Pakistan into war.
Once again, world leaders fear that another conventional war between India and Pakistan could go nuclear -- even as both governments utter all the usual assurances that they can keep their nukes under control.
Once again, world leaders need to recall the frighteningly candid words of a former Pakistan Army general who explained to me years ago how in a conventional weapons clash between India and Pakistan, even a well-intentioned, highly-trained general such as he was could inadvertently start a nuclear war. And how the initial nuclear launch would not only be responded to but would instantly escalate tenfold -- a catastrophe that would not only obliterate the region but would have severe global consequences
The warning spoken by retired Brig. Gen. Feroz Khan in my interview with him in 2002 reads like a warning call today. We spoke at a time when India and Pakistan seemed headed toward yet another ground war over the disputed bucolic region of Kashmir -- after Pakistan-based guerrillas of Lashkar-i-Taiba attacked India's Parliament. Now India says last month's Mumbai murderers were trained inside Pakistan by the same militant group, which is linked to elements of Pakistan intelligence.
Once the conventional war breaks out, the fog of war sets in. And during war you have deceptions. You have misperceptions. You have communications breakdowns. Things get heated up.
The retired general noted that "nuclear weapons ... are normally kept in peacetime, or even during the crisis, under a certain set of conditions where safety is more important than effectiveness."
Time can be the ultimate enemy in a war between nuclear next-door neighbors. Because missiles are launched just minutes from their targets. And nuclear decisions sometimes need to be made instantly -- by generals in the field -- not civilian leaders in the capitals.
The former Pakistan general cited three scenarios where a general in combat might have to issue an order to retaliate without having sufficient time to know for sure whether the enemy has actually attacked with a weapon carrying a nuclear warhead.
That is why India and Pakistan dare allow terrorists to blast them into an unwanted war. And world leaders dare not allow it to happen.