Defusing South Asian tensions

The US has urged India and Pakistan to hold dialogue to de-escalate tensions, saying they don’t want the relations to worsen and “lead to some kind of incident.”

All those who have the interests of peace in the region will share Washington’s anxiety over the worsening situation in South Asia. Tension has been soaring ever since Indian-controlled Kashmir plunged into turmoil after the killing by security forces of Burhan Wani, a Hizbul militant commander on July 8. Islamabad’s subsequent actions and statements including the description of Wani, a 22-year-old Kashmiri, as a “martyr” only made things worse. Kashmir unrest and clashes have so far killed 76 civilians. This has dampened hopes of a breakthrough in Indo-Pak relations after a new government headed by Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) Narendra Modi took over in May 2014. Confounding his followers and critics, Modi, the leader of a party which has always been implacably hostile to Pakistan, invited Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to his swearing in ceremony.

That this was not an empty gesture became clear when Modi made a surprise visit to Pakistan in December 2015. The visit, coinciding with Sharif’s birthday and the wedding of his granddaughter, was the first by an Indian leader in 11 years. They also had an unscheduled meeting at the Paris climate change talks earlier this year.

Exactly a week after Modi’s dramatic Christmas day visit to Lahore, there was a pre-dawn attack on India’s Pathankot air base. Pakistan has denied any involvement in the attack as alleged by India, but it follows a fixed pattern: Every major peace move is preceded or quickly followed by a terror attack on Indian soil, designed specifically to undermine an India-Pakistan engagement. Developments in Kashmir have further deteriorated the situation. India says cross-border terrorism emanating from Pakistan is the root cause of all problems while Pakistan maintains that “oppressive” regimes have always labeled those struggling for their rights as terrorists. Pakistan’s bid to internationalize the Kashmir issue and India’s efforts to raise alleged human rights violations in Balochistan as well as Pakistan-controlled Kashmir have further vitiated atmosphere.

So fears of worsening relations “leading to some kind of incident” are not unjustified. After all, the two neighbors have fought three wars and one near-war (at Kargil in Kashmir in 1999). They share a volatile frontier which stretches 2,070 miles from Kashmir in the Himalayas to the Arabian Sea and any time there can be an incident by design or accident. To resume the stalled dialogue on critical economic and security issues is the only way to avoid something untoward happening and India, being the biggest and strongest, should take the initiative to revive the peace process. In the beginning, the focus should be on issues such as visas, confidence building measures on the Line of Control, water issues and the Sir Creek dispute.

The more issues they are able to agree on, the greater their chances of addressing the single largest issue that holds back ties today, that of terrorism (for India) and Kashmir (for Pakistan). The aim should be to pave the road that was opened by Modi and Sharif on Christmas day last year.

India and Pakistan should realize that heavy military spending has been detrimental to the citizens of both countries, taking away scarce resources from education, health and social welfare. Pakistan suffers more because it has a weak economy. For India, this defense spending stands in the way of Modi realizing his domestic ambitions, which include transforming his country into an economic power. According to America’s Council on Foreign Relations, without market reforms India risks being left behind in international trade, and that the risk of conflict with Pakistan “threatens to drag India down.”

Pakistan needs to understand that even the most delicious mangoes in the world will fail to remove the bitter taste some of its actions leave in India’s mouth.

Courtesy: Saudi Gazettee

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