Friday, September 30, 2016

India and Pakistan inching towards war?

After three wars in the past and over two decades of skirmishes on the Kashmir Line of Control (LOC), events of the past couple of weeks have inched the two South Asian nuclear powers closer to war. The incident of the Uri camp on the Indian side which left 18 Indian soldiers has worked Indian media and the hawks into a frenzy of war mongering. When seen in isolation India certainly would be aggrieved by the attack which was carried out by Kashmiri separatists and India's claim that they were armed and supported by Pakistan.

There are two ways to see the current crisis, a short 3 month to 3 year view, or go back to the genesis of the dispute. There cannot be any doubt that the recent protests within Indian Kashmir against the Indian government control of the area by Indian Kashmiri's has left India embarrassed about their assertion that Kashmiri's were well assimilated into the main body of the Indian Union. The fact that there were curfews and violent protests against Delhi in Srinagar and elsewhere in Indian Kashmir cannot be denied as home grown, even though pro Pakistan elements may well have fuelled the fire.

On the flip side there is also every possibility that domestic turmoil within Indian Kashmir will be exploited by both Indian Kashmiris in exile within Pakistan Kashmir and also by militant elements within Pakistan. For Pakistan the difficult situation has been that while it is combating the terrorists of Taliban, Al Qaeda and other anti Pakistan groups within their country, there is the Kashmir card that some other anti Indian militant groups play to draw support even from those terrorist groups that Pakistan army is battling within the country. Roping in this organisations is not easy and for Pakistan to train them and support them is counter productive. The military in Pakistan does not want to make the mistake they made of training and arming the Taliban for the battles within Afghanistan only to see these former allies turn on their hosts; Pakistan.

The hawks on both sides clearly are not interested in measures to de-escalate the current confrontation which is closely resembling an inching towards a limited war. India has already evacuated over a 1,000 villages on their side, supposedly as a precaution, which Pakistan could well be seeing as a precursor to the Indian army crossing the international border. For both armies it is one thing to have skirmishes on the Line of Control in Kashmir and another thing to cross the International Border. For India the attack in Uri gives them the pretext to talk about Pakistan sponsored terrorism and avoid discussion on the situation within Kashmir. For Pakistan the sabre rattling by India allows the Sharif government to try and divert attention of the opposition, led vy Imran Khan, to further besiege the government on the issue of corruption.

Sadly sensible voices are being drowned in the noise as India, unusually, has upped the ante to talk of further surgical strikes. The last time this happened there was a vicious war in the Kargil area in which neither side came out looking the better. However, the military situation has changed and the belief that Pakistan now possesses tactical nuclear weapons, whether they be depleted uranium ammunition or low yield flash nuclear weapons, gives the Pakistan army the edge that should their international border be crossed in a formal war then such weapons would be used. India's response in this sense would only have to be an escalation to deploying non tactical nuclear weapons. Washington is aware of the risks and it would be important that both sides are encouraged to rein in the war mongering as neither side will win this war.

From a Pakistan point of view to be called a sponsor or terrorism is considered absurd having lost over 54,000 personnel and 300,000 civilian losses, including injuries, over the past 17 years in fighting terrorism. There has to also been an acknowledgement that Pakistan cannot reign in each and every group just as India or the US or any country can ensure that rouge terror attacks will not happen. From India's point of view there has to be a visible effort to reduce the attacks on their territory from elements coming across the border.

Both sides should engage in serious discussions to prevent an escalation and both should consider a 3 mile wide buffer along the line of control and ask for the United Nations to administer the buffer zone. I also personally believe that the Kashmiris really do not want either side and seek an independent state of their own. Pakistani side Kashmiris in this sense have not shown an anti Paksitak bias while in contrast Indian Kashmiris have had their moments of love and hate with New Delhi. For the moment both sides have more to gain by pushing for peace rather than testing their military might in a senseless war where there will no winners.

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