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A Splendid Little War
Clash with India Shows Who Really Runs Pakistan

Are Pakistan and India heading toward their fourth war in fifty years? The Wall Street Journal reports:

Indian and Pakistani leaders pledged tough action as the two nations’ security forces exchanged heavy fire on Thursday, signaling a possible escalation of cross-border hostilities that are already among the worst in a decade…

Nearly a week of mortar and small-arms fire between troops on the two sides has left at least 17 people dead, injured more than a hundred others and forced thousands from their homes.

The real government in Pakistan isn’t the group of elected officials who fumble ineffectually on the fringes of power in Pakistan. The real government is the national security complex that sets limits on civilian politicos and from time to time enjoys subjecting them to ritual humiliations and demonstrations of their impotence.

The latest round of fighting between India and Pakistan serves those purposes well. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, like many of his predecessors, made improved relations with India a priority, but a hostile relationship with India is key both to the military’s worldview and to its ability to legitimize its longstanding control of the country. The military is leaving no doubt about who is really in charge.

From the perspective of Modi’s new government in India, hostility is also helpful. It gives Modi a chance to look tough against Pakistan, a stance that unites Hindu and nationalist opinion in India behind him. By burnishing his Hindu and nationalist credentials, this in turn may give him a little more room to push on the economic development issues, such as facilitating land sales for factory development and chipping away at the regulations and subsidies that hobble India’s growth and foster corruption, but that remain popular with many poor people who see no alternatives.

Neither the Pakistani army nor the Indian government want a real war, thankfully, so this latest episode of violence will, we hope, remain at a comparatively low level. And it’s probably better for all concerned that the countries express their hostility through somewhat symbolic border confrontations (horrible though these are for the civilians trapped in the shelling) than to have, say, the Pakistani security forces step up support for terror groups operating on Indian soil.

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