News reports coming from Pakistan are no longer speaking of civil unrest, but of a looming civil war. The causes are complex: ethnic, religious, regional, and economic all melding and overlapping. But the cause doesn’t really matter. The Americans and NATO think life is tough in Iraq and Afghanistan. Now think of a country of 160 million people, armed with nuclear weapons, riddled with religious fanatics, and bordered by a larger, confident nuclear power – India – that could not possibly remain aloof from a civil war on its borders. Back in 1970, at a conference at the Harvard Law School, I predicted that the most likely use of nuclear weapons would be between India and Pakistan. In 1990, I predicted in the UN journal “Disarmament” that the most likely scenario for nuclear use would be in a civil war in a nuclear weapons state. (Sorry, folks, no hyperlinks, e-archives don’t go back that far).
The media have been slow to pick up on this, probably for the usual reason that no Americans have yet been killed. But this could unfold into a genuine “August 1914” scenario in which countries are pulled in one by one. First India, then very likely China, perhaps Russia, certainly the US: all nuclear weapons states. Bismark predicted correctly that the next major European war would be caused by “some damned thing in the Balkans”. Perhaps Pakistan , born as the product of British colonial balkanization, might play the role this time.
But let’s suppose that Pakistan’s troubles don’t lead to the apocalypse, merely the downfall of President Musharraf. No nuclear war, but the US has placed all its chips on his number on the roulette wheel. And, unlike the scene in the movie “Casablanca”, there’s no Rick to tip the croupier. The US loses its chips. Now who do you pick to start the next war?