The idea that a nuclear war could be started by a hoax caller may seem too Bizarro Worldish, even for the post-9/11 era, but there you have it:
"A hoax caller claiming to be India’s foreign minister threatened Pakistan’s president with war during the final hours of the Mumbai attacks, prompting Islamabad to put its air force on its highest alert for nearly 24 hours, a news report said Saturday."
How did the Mumbai prankster get through to the president of Pakistan? Simple: caller ID! Naturally, these things can be faked, but what do they know in Pakistan? (Although I’ll bet the caller wouldn’t have gotten through to Gen. Pervez "No Nonsense" Musharraf, the previous "president"-cum-dictator.)
What this underscores — apart from the tenuous character of human existence and the utter absurdity of life — is how delicate the balance of terror is these days. One false move and — ka-boom! — the world (or a good chunk of it) goes up in a puff of smoke. If you like your humor dark and unsweetened, then this is mordantly funny. What’s not so funny, however, is the probable answer to the obvious question: who made the call?
My guess is that whoever did it had a direct connection to the organizers of the Mumbai terror. After all, their goal was clearly to provoke a war between India and Pakistan, and one can hardly conceive of a more direct way to accomplish it. The call, I believe, also provides a clue to the identity of the Mumbai terrorists.
It’s a truism that murderers have a distinct modus operandi: they do their evil deeds in a particular fashion, and there are certain telltale signs — signatures, if you will — that habitual killers impart to their grisly work. In this case, we have been here once before — on 9/11. In that instance, too, a caller got through to a president — at the White House via the Secret Service. According to former New York Times columnist William Safire:
"A threatening message received by the Secret Service was relayed to the agents with the president that ‘Air Force One is next.’ According to the high official, American code words were used showing a knowledge of procedures that made the threat credible."