Thank God for the clouds of war that frighteningly hovered for a week have started waning from the skies of the Sub-Continent. In the seventy years, acrimonious history of India and Pakistan another terrifying date has been added to already existing long list of the dates reminiscent of awful tales of death and destruction.
On Tuesday 26 February 2019, twenty years after the Kargil war alarm bells once again startedringing in the capitals across the globe from Moscow to Beijing to Washington to Riyadh. On this day at around 3:30 am, the Indian air force conducted airstrikes at Jaba hilltop in Balakot, in Mansehra District in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province of Pakistan. Several Mirage 2000, dropped “1000 Kg bombs” on the hills. The attack was carried out in ‘reprisal’ of a car bomb attack on a CRPF convoy, killing over forty paramilitary troops on Srinagar-Jammu highway in Pulwama District- the attack was owned by Jaish-e- Mohammad. New Delhi chose to call the strikes as “non-military” and “pre-emptive” in nature; targeting a Jaish-e-Mohammed facility within Pakistan.
The alarm bells in the world capitals became louder a day after when on Wednesday Pakistan conducted air strikes on the Line of Control (LOC), shot down Indian jet Mig-21 Bison in a dogfight and captured its pilot. To say in the emerging scenario after the airstrikes, Imran Khan sportsman graduated to be prime minister of Pakistan conducted himself like a statesman would not be eulogistic but admitting a fact. In the war hysteria discoursesbeamed from television studios inside our drawing rooms, his conduct set a tone for de-escalation and sent a message across that his country favoured a dialogue on all issues and not war with the immediate neighbour.Many friendly countries to both the countries worked overtime to cool tempers in New Delhi and Islamabad. From the crown prince of Saudi Arabia Mohammad Bin Salman Al Saud to US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Antonio Guterres, many other influential personalities were directly involved in behind the scene efforts for stopping the situation taking a catastrophicturn. Some days back the State Department publicly stated that US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo led diplomatic engagement directly, and played an essential role in de-escalating the tensions between the two sides. He spoke with leaders in both countries, and that included the Indian Minister of External AffairsSushma Swaraj, National Security Advisor AjitDoval, and Pakistani Foreign Minister Qureshi.’
From 1962, the India-China war United States has acted as crisis manager between two hostile strategically important key South-Asian players. In 1962, Washington had advised Pakistan to desist from joining the India-China war instead made the two countries engage in talks- the Bhutto-Swaran Singh talks. To quote Frank Morass, “During the Indo-Pakistan talks which followed Sino-Indian conflict in 1962, an attempt was made to work out ground rules for the access of both India and Pakistan to the Valley of Srinagar…Their statement suggested, while valley should go to Pakistan India should be guaranteed a corridor through the valley to enable it to supply to Ladakh, a frontier area directly threatened by Chinese.”That ‘the Clinton, Bush and Obama administrations aggressively worked to ensure that India-Pakistan confrontations in 1999, 2002 and 2008 did not spiral out of control’ are historical realities. Looking, at the US role for peace in the region, the Donald Trump will have toreact to the call by the New York Times Board editorial and do more to see the two countries engaged in a composite dialogue for addressing their outstanding disputes.
Ostensibly, the escalation between the two nuclear countries that to quote the Wall Street Journal has been ‘flirting with nuclear disaster’ has simmered down,but the war rhetoric has not died down. Moreover, with a countdown for 2019, Parliament elections having started it has started getting louder at the elections rallies,and some television anchors, concerned with the rating of their channels have been adding to jingoism. The undying jingoism is like a thorn in the neck of South-Asia,and it has not only left many an analyst in the region about the permanence of the peace between the two neighbours but has also becomethe cause of concern to the international community, if it did notflare up. On Saturday, while I was writing this column, television scrolls mentioned discussion between US Secretary of State and British National Security Advisor about the Situation in South-Asia. Discussing the vital global priorities Mike Pompeo and S Mark Sedwill discussed the current India-Pakistan relations and its implications for global peace. “The talk was reflective of the fact that the United States continues to engage its resources to reduce the tensions between the two nuclear countries.” There is an equal worry in Beijing about the situation in the region. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi making a mention in a press briefing held on the sidelines of the annual National People’s Congress legislative meeting about the role played by him in reducing tension between New Delhi and Islamabad asked the two countries to resolve the dispute through dialogue and “transform the crisis into an opportunity and meet each other halfway.” The worry about crisis flaring up between the two nuclear countries is not only confined to Washington, Beijing and Riyadh only but is reflected in the international media as well. The New York Times Editorial Board in its Thursday write up wrote “this relative calm is not a solution” and it equally warned ‘the next confrontation between the two neighbours might not end so calmly.’
In this weird scenario, despite peace apparently having been given a chance drumming of war from the television studios and at the public rallies continuing, I nurse strong optimism for the peaceful settlement of the core conflict in the region.In the India and Pakistan conflict,so many countries have not got simultaneously involved in the past as after two days rattling of the jets in the skies,in addition fears about Kashmir causing a nuclear war between them have not been expressed so candidly. The New York Times, Editorial Board opinion that was carried prominently bythe newspaperin India and Pakistan had a word caution for the two countries in stating: “nuclear arsenals mean unthinkable consequences are always possible. As long as India and Pakistan refuse to deal with their core dispute – the future of Kashmir – they face unpredictable, possibly terrifying, consequences “.
The war rhetoric may not die down till the conducting of the Parliament elections nevertheless the global discourse about looming threats of a nuclear war and need for a dialogue between the two countries will get louder after the elections.
Z. G .MUHAMMAD
Columnist and Writer