A war against the people in India-held Kashmir has now also expanded into a war of words against the Pakistani government by the Indian foreign ministry.

The two statements of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif that have raised hackles in India are his direct mention of Burhan Wani, the insurgent leader whose killing triggered the latest protests in IHK, in a statement after the National Security Committee meeting over the weekend and his comment at a post-election rally in Muzaffarabad that Kashmir will one day become a part of Pakistan.

The comments were fairly anodyne and it should be noted that the PML-N election campaign in AJK focused more on that region’s needs and the party’s political opponents in the recently held elections than a debate on the future status of an undivided Jammu and Kashmir. Indeed, as noted in these columns, the plight of the oppressed people of IHK did not feature as prominently as it could have at the end of what had seemed to be a very competitive election campaign.

Yet, India’s foreign minister, Sushma Swaraj, has launched a highly personal attack against Mr Sharif, alleging that the Pakistani prime minister was “delusional” in thinking that Kashmir would one day become a part of Pakistan.

The problem with Ms Swaraj’s comments is that their undiplomatic tone is almost designed to shut down bilateral diplomacy, which is already in limbo.

The Indian foreign minister must surely have sought clearance from Prime Minister Narendra Modi before personally attacking his Pakistani counterpart, and it can only be assumed that the Indian government is seeking to further complicate ties.

After all, Mr Modi himself recently cast doubt on the prospects for bilateral dialogue by questioning the internal powers dynamics of Pakistan.

Meanwhile, the brutal suppression of protesters in IHK and the Indian state’s arrogant assertion that the disputed region is a so-called internal matter for India suggest an undermining of the core dialogue process that India and Pakistan must eventually hold.

For its part, the Pakistani state, and the political government in particular, have taken a largely sensible line on events in Kashmir so far with an emphasis on diplomacy and the plight of ordinary Kashmiris under Indian rule.

Foreign affairs adviser Sartaj Aziz’s response to Ms Swaraj that the future of Kashmir is for the people of Kashmir to decide is in keeping with a sensible approach.

Perhaps the Indian government will ratchet down its unnecessary and undiplomatic language.

Published in Dawn, July 26th, 2016

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