Another Mumbai-style terror attack on India emanating from Pakistan holds the potential of triggering off a nuclear confrontation, a report by the US intelligence said today, identifying Afghanistan as the next focus of a future rivalry between the two countries.
The report, however, said that normalisation of Indo-Pak trade would be a critical factor in building trust between the two countries over the next few years.
"India worries about a second Mumbai-style terrorist attack from militants backed by Pakistan. A major incident with many casualties and Pakistani fingerprints would put a weakened Indian Government under tremendous pressure to respond with force, with the attendant risk of nuclear miscalculation," said the report.
Pakistan's large and fast-growing nuclear arsenal in addition to its doctrine of "first use" is intended to deter and balance against India's conventional military advantages, said the fifth installment of the 'Global Trends 2030: Alternative Worlds,' of National Intelligence Council (NIC).
According to the NIC report, running into more than 150 pages, Afghanistan could become the focus of future Indian-Pakistani competition, particularly after the drawdown in US and NATO forces post-2014.
"Both countries want to deny giving the other a strategy advantage, making regional cooperation difficult. More broadly, conflicting strategic goals, widespread distrust, and hedging strategies of all Afghanistan's neighbours - not just India and Pakistan - will make it difficult to develop a strong regional security framework," it said.
The NIC said like Middle East, South Asia will face a series of internal and external shocks over next 15-20 years.
"Impacts from climate change, including water stress, in addition to low economic growth, rising food prices, and energy shortages will pose stiff challenges to governance in Pakistan and Afghanistan," it said.
"Afghanistan's and Pakistan's youth bulges are large -similar in size to those found in many African countries - and when combined with slow - growing economies portend increased social instability," it said, adding that India is in a better position, benefiting from higher growth, but New Delhi will still be challenged to find jobs for its large youthful population.
"Inequality, lack of infrastructure, and educational deficiencies are key weaknesses in India. India also faces an intransigent rural insurgency - the Naxalites - which constitutes an internal security challenge.
"Rapid urbanisation in India and Pakistan almost certainly will transform their political landscapes from more traditional control by rural elites to one shaped by a growing pool of urban poor and middle class," it said.
NIC said in a 'Turn-the-Corner