TWO attacks in India-held Kashmir have sent tensions in the region soaring and prompted an extraordinary verbal attack by Indian Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, against Pakistan. Before Ms Sitharaman’s bellicose statement, the Pakistan Foreign Office had already issued a statement suggesting that India should not presumptively blame Pakistan for violence in IHK, as in the past such accusations have been created as an excuse for India to attack across the LoC and Working Boundary. The attack on an army camp in Jammu on Saturday and another on a Central Reserve Police Force camp in Srinagar yesterday have so ratcheted up tensions between the two countries that IHK Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti, has been forced to speak out. Ms Mufti has said on Twitter, “Dialogue with Pakistan is necessary if we are to end bloodshed. I know I will be labelled anti-national by news anchors tonight but that doesn’t matter. The people of J&K are suffering. We have to talk because war is not an option.”
Her words should be heeded by the Indian government. The strident response of Ms Sitharaman may satisfy anti-Pakistan hawks in India, but such sentiments can only pave the way to greater conflict, not less. The events of September 2016 should serve as a reminder of unrestrained rhetoric leading to unmanageable consequences. An attack on a military brigade headquarters in Uri that India blamed on Jaish-e-Mohammad led to a clamour for action against Pakistan. Less than two weeks later, the Modi government, which itself appeared to fan the flames of war, launched so-called surgical strikes across the LoC. While the details have been disputed by Pakistan, the propaganda unleashed by India dangerously increased the possibility of conflict between the two states. The claim of surgical strikes was clearly meant to placate the Indian public, which had been whipped up into a nationalist frenzy, but it also threatened a cycle of violence, propaganda and counter-propaganda that could have spun out of control.
Interventions by IHK politicians such as Ms Mufti may help calm tensions in the short term, but the chief minister’s advice squarely addresses the underlying problem. Dialogue is essential between India and Pakistan because in its absence, hardliners will hijack the discourse and push agendas of self-interest that could have disastrous consequences for the people of both countries. The past five years have proven that waiting for the right time to attempt dialogue is futile. Elections in one country or the other, change of governments and the ebb and flow of violence will always be an excuse to delay dialogue when neither side is sincere. But without dialogue, the threat of violence can only grow. The Indian and Pakistani states owe it to their people to find peaceful solutions to seemingly intractable disputes.
Published in Dawn, February 13th, 2018