Over the past week, Indian PM Modi’s brinkmanship brought South Asia’s two nuclear powers dangerously close to a horrendous conflict that was avoided just by a hair’s breadth. First, the Indian government created a war hysteria in the wake of the Pulwama attack and then Indian planes crossed the Line of Control. They fled back when challenged by the Pakistan Air Force, but not before dropping their payload in Azad Kashmir.
This was a naked act of aggression but Pakistan showed restraint. The next day, Indian jets again attacked across the LoC, resulting in two of them being shot down and the capture of a pilot. Our fighter planes, by shooting down the Indian aircraft without crossing the LOC, gave a loud and clear message to the Indian leadership that Pakistan was fully capable and ready to thwart any aggressive act against it.
The outbreak of hostilities along the sensitive Kashmir border created a war-like situation and, naturally, rang alarm bells around the world. India made matters worse by moving its ground forces to forward positions and banning its air space for all commercial Pakistani flights. Sensing the ugly Indian mood, Pakistan too closed down all its airports and put its air force and navy on high alert.
After the shooting down of Indian planes, Prime Minister Imran Khan, in his address to the nation, presented an olive branch to India, stressing the need for a peaceful resolution of all disputes. He said that in spite of grave provocation, Pakistan did not want an escalation which could lead to war between the two nuclear nations. He pointed out that wars have their own momentum and, once started, were not easy to control by the warring sides. He also announced that as a goodwill gesture and an earnest of its peaceful intention, Pakistan would release the captured Indian pilot.
Wing Commander Abhinandan has gone back to India but New Delhi has maintained its steely ambiguance on how to proceed further to ease the tensions, whose embers are still alive. As noted by international observers, PM Modi is playing a dangerous political game with his eye on the coming elections in India. Throughout his political career, Modi has promoted and aligned with extremist Hindu elements in Indian society. Following the massacre of 2000 Muslims in Gujrat during his chief ministership, he rose to become the prime minister of India by fanning rabid nationalist passions among fanatic Hindus. He has thrived on anti-Muslim and anti-Pakistan rhetoric and, as the world media has pointed out, wants to keep the war tension between the two countries alive until the general elections in India.
The current round of Indo-Pak confrontation started with the Pulwama attack, which India blamed on Pakistan-linked terrorists. Although PM Imran Khan has repeatedly asked New Delhi to provide credible proof of Pakistan’s involvement in the incident, yet the latter has failed to do so. Instead, India continues to defame Pakistan as a state sponsoring terrorism. This is contrary to facts. In the last decade, Pakistan lost 70,000 of its citizens to terrorist attacks. In multiple operations launched against terrorists in recent years, the Pakistan army has killed thousands of militants and destroyed their hideouts in the tribal areas. Also, all militant organisations have been banned and their leaders arrested.
In view of the continuing danger from India, Pakistan needs to launch a diplomatic offensive to ask the world community to play its part in de-escalating the dangerous situation, which has the potential to get out of control and sear the peace of the region and beyond. The ball is in India’s court. Pakistan is ready to talk but India seems to be in an intransigent mood. In recent months, New Delhi has persistently spurned Islamabad’s offer of talks. This negative attitude of India is the main hurdle to peace in the sub-continent.
Needless to say, dialogue is the only way to dissipate the present state of tension and solve the Kashmir issue, which has been festering for the last 70 years. Kashmir is not a territorial dispute. It is a humanitarian issue, based on the democratic principle and international law and convention of self-determination. There is a long history of over 600,000 Kashmiris massacred in nearly a century by extremist violence by fanatic Hindus.
In the recent uprisings spread over three decades, over 100,000 Kashmiris have been killed by the Indian security forces. But Indian atrocities have not been able to dampen the spirit of freedom-seeking Kashmiri people. The current agitation in Kashmir is a purely indigenous movement which is not going to die down. India is mistaken, if it thinks it can control the situation by the use of brute force. It is time it came to the negotiating table with Pakistan to find a peaceful settlement to Kashmir and other disputes that have kept the sub-continent in a state of confrontation.