India on edge

By Ian Bremmer

For the first time in several years, shifting security dynamics could push India and Pakistan toward confrontation. 

The good news is that Pakistan's military has had success lately with attacks on local militants in the tribal areas along the border with Afghanistan. The bad news is that the militants have demonstrated an ability to retaliate in other parts of the country, most recently with a deadly assault on the heavily fortified army headquarters in Rawalpindi in October. The worst news is that they may try to launch new attacks across the border in India.

Pakistan's militants know they face less pressure whenever Pakistan's military and security forces feel directly threatened by India. Following last fall's Mumbai terror attacks, allegedly planned inside Pakistan, Pakistan's military, fearing an Indian reprisal, went on high alert. The breathing room the extremists won and the support they gained from others with an anti-Indian agenda may well have helped them develop new links with like-minded groups in the region -- possibly even with radicals at the margins of India's own Muslim community.

Since the Mumbai attacks, the Indian government has worked to simplify the processes of intelligence -- sharing among security agencies and police and to increase ground -- level coordination in Delhi and Mumbai with U.S. and British counterterrorist organizations. But it's a work in progress, and India's cities remain vulnerable. 

India's Congress Party leadership wants to keep simmering tensions with Pakistan from reaching a boil. But to minimize the damage from opposition charges of weakness following the Mumbai attacks, India's government demanded that Pakistan take decisive action to disrupt cross-border terrorist operations. The Pakistanis have done very little in response. Another major attack would all but force the Indian government to take a much more hostile approach to Pakistan's government, allowing Pakistan's military leadership to set aside attacks on local militants and turn their attention to an enemy they feel less reluctant to antagonize.

Ian Bremmer is president of Eurasia Group.