A rocky way forward for India and Pakistan
Much has been speculated lately about the potential threat of a nuclear misadventure between Pakistan and India. Modi’s government in India has put massive weight on its policies to pressure Pakistan and gain the trust of the international community on Delhi’s policies in the region.
Renewed tensions between the two neighbors escalated this year after the Pulwama attack in Indian-administered Kashmir in February, which resulted in the deaths of 40 Indian paramilitary forces. India blamed Pakistan for the attack and carried out an airstrike in the Balakot region of Pakistan which did not result in casualties, according to Islamabad. In a subsequent event, Indian jets were shot down by the Pakistan Air force and an Indian pilot was held captive for a few hours before he was released.
If any crisis were to break out, they will be more dangerous than ever before, especially now that the trust gap between the two players has widened.
Pakistan was widely lauded, at home and abroad, for playing a major role in de-escalating the situation by returning the Indian pilot without detention. Prime Minister Imran Khan, in his own words, said he hoped for a peaceful South Asia after coming to power. This goodwill gesture displayed a desire for peaceful negotiations with India that were a departure from the decades-old animosity between the two states.
But the abrogation of Article 370 by India in the early days of August this year added fuel to a fire Pakistan was trying to put out. The Indian government’s subsequent clampdown and curfew in the Kashmir valley alienated the entire population of the region, even those who were not previously opposed to the idea of unification with India barring certain conditions. Now, it is only a matter of time that violence begins flaring up. Already, a grenade attack in Southern Kashmir near a government building on Saturday injured at least 10 people. And the Modi government’s policy of treating all violence as Pakistani-sponsored will mean it is only a matter of time before the next Pulwama-Balakot scenario might occur.
Ever since Kashmir’s special status was revoked, Pakistan has raised the issue on every major global platform, but so far without any practical support. In his address to the United Nations General Assembly two weeks ago, Khan said he would ‘fight to the end’ if war with India began. And now that Pakistan has realized that much of the world is not paying heed to its appeals, it is likely that Islamabad will not de-escalate another war-like crisis, until the world becomes more worried and starts paying more attention.
Pakistan and India might have radically different economic, demographic, and military sizes but it should be noted that both countries are laced with massive nuclear capabilities. If any crisis were to break out, they will be more dangerous than ever before, especially now that the trust gap between the two players has widened. Additionally, the hyper-nationalist populism regarding Kashmir will leave less room for patient considerations.
Of course, relations between the two players were bound to deteriorate when the bilateral, highly sensitive Kashmir issue was handled unilaterally by India. In September, India’s union defense minister, Rajnath Singh, said in a Twitter post that Pakistan “should keep in mind that Jammu and Kashmir is an integral part of India. Future discussion can only be about PoK (Pakistan occupied Kashmir),” he said.
It was an irresponsible approach to a rapidly escalating situation.
Against this backdrop, Pakistan is fighting a shaky economy while working to keep its terror-financing record in check before the Paris based watchdog, Financial Action Task Force. For this, it has even subjected itself to verification by American and British intelligence. This can prove to be an effective step by Pakistan to counter terror-financing accusations, which have been used by India, so as not to hold talks with Pakistan.
If tensions between the two neighbors escalate, major world powers will have to intervene. The EU will choose steps to reduce the chances of a nuclear war between the two countries. International markets will fear their losses and the US will have to act as a tougher mediator. The moment war seems like a near possibility, India will not be able to define the issue on its own terms — especially when Pakistan continues to work to assuage the international community’s worries about terrorism.
– Naila Mahsud is a Pakistani political and International relations researcher, with a focus on regional politics and security issues. Twitter: @MahsudNaila