South Asia is again at the crossroads of an impending war. The mounting tension between the nation states of India and Pakistan flared up after a recent attack on an India army barrack in Uri area of Kashmir province. The issue has kept everyone attentive—at least in South Asia—to the worsening bilateral relations. With both the sides possessing nuclear warheads, escalation of any sort can lead to a nuclear catastrophe. One might argue that the factor of nuclear deterrence will prevent the states from taking such extreme step. This argument can fairly be responded by the fact that possession of nuclear weapons does not reduce the possibility of war as each side in this case is testing the patience of the other. Also, there are limits to deterrence as well.
About two weeks ago, an Indian army base in Uri was attacked by few gunmen which led to the killing of 19 Indian soldiers. The Indian state considers the attack as most brutal to have taken place in the recent past. Grief and sympathy outpoured across the Indian nation. Avenge for Uri and firm action against those responsible marked the next day headlines. The Indian state declared Pakistan behind the attack while Pakistan denied its role in the attack. The blame game continues. There is a general belief among the Indians that Pakistani state carries such attacks, like Uri and gets away with it easily. Will India militarily respond to Pakistan’s alleged role behind Uri attack became the central focus in the aftermath of the incident. Surprisingly, India proudly claimed of conducting ‘Surgical Strikes’ in the Pakistan territory as a mark of avenging Uri attacks, thus further escalating the tension. On the contrary, Pakistan’s reputed daily The Dawn reported that an Indian soldier had been captured by the Pakistani Army during cross firing across the border. Pakistan Army also claims to have killed eight other Indian soldiers during the same operation. I wonder why the Pakistani state denied the “surgical strikes” launched by India. It seems as if India is following the same suite by not admitting that eight of its soldiers have been killed in the cross-border firing even if both the events have taken place. Are the two states behaving responsibly by denying respective incidents? There is an element of responsibility in denying strikes and killings as this would restrain both from retaliation.
India and Pakistan have faced war-like crises in the past as well. Wars and countless skirmishes have dominated their national security past. However, the war in Kargil in the backdrop of the advent of nuclear weapons made the rival states of India and Pakistan cautious of potential nuclear catastrophe and particularly of the miscalculations leading to all-out nuclear war. The immediate need was to revive confidence-building measures on both sides of the Line of Control. In 2002, the two states witnessed military standoff for nearly 10 months. A single mistake on either side would have cost the lives of tens of thousands. A diplomatic maneuver by General Pervez Musharraf at the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) Summit in Nepal in January 2002 had a desired effect as Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee decided to visit Pakistan for the SAARC summit in January 2004. Prime Minister Vajpayee’s visit to Pakistan in 2004 again brought new hopes. The decision to move forward the peace process through a ”composite dialogue” had hardly gained momentum when Vajpayee’s BJP party lost the election. Steve Coll writes in The New Yorker magazine that in 2006 Pervez Musharraf, who was then Pakistan’s President and Army Chief, summoned his most senior generals and two foreign ministry officials to a series of meetings at his military office in Rawalpindi. There they reviewed the progress of a secret, sensitive negotiations with India, known to its participants as “the back channel.” For several years special envoys from Pakistan and India had been holding talks in hotel rooms in Bangkok, Dubai and London. Musharraf and Manmohan Singh had encouraged the negotiators to seek what some stakeholders called a ”paradigm shift” in Indo-Pak relations. Khurshid Kasuri who was the then Foreign Minister, gave a statement that “Pakistan had become a nuclear power. War was no longer an option for either side.” Only by diplomacy they can achieve their goals in Kashmir.
The present war like crisis need not to be escalated further as this will lock the two nations in the fury of war. Diplomatic channels need to be kept open which will gradually help in bringing normalcy in the bilateral relations of India and Pakistan. Track II diplomacy will play a significant role in de-escalating the crisis. Social media can play a vital role in containing the crisis by checking the war mongering. Civil Society organizations should also play a significant role in managing the relations. International community should also take steps to encourage both nations to exercise the maximum restraint.
India is being perceived as an emerging regional power and a key player in new world order. Even Spiderman concedes, “With great power comes great responsibility.” India needs to project itself as a responsible nation that will serve as a stabilizing factor in the region. War with Pakistan will profoundly damage the rising attribute of its economy and will grossly damage its soft power that it has attained over past few years. One also need to note that-”there is no victory in modern wars”.
War brings miseries and hardships. Imagining an all-out war between India and Pakistan send shivers down one’s spine. It is estimated that if India and Pakistan fight a war, detonating hundreds of nuclear warheads, more than 21 million people will be directly killed. Not only this, half of the world’s protective ozone layer would be destroyed and there will be a huge impact upon the agriculture and atmosphere around us. We are living in different time and space. Modern technology has made the wars more lethal. Those favoring war need to rethink what wars lead to. Nations must learn to say no to war, no matter how big or small. Political leaders and others holding responsible positions must not let their judgment be clouded by war mongers. War destroys, inflicts miseries and guarantees no perpetual peace.
Muneeb Yousuf is a Research Scholar at Academy of International Studies, Jamia Millia Islamia New Delhi. If you wish to write for Kashmir Dispatch, send your submissions to firstname.lastname@example.org