AT a time when the roll of war drums is resonating at fever pitch from across the border, Prime Minister Imran Khan has made a sensible statement.

In a televised address, Mr Khan has extended a significant, unambiguous offer to India — that Pakistan is ready to cooperate in any investigation India wishes to undertake into its alleged role in the Pulwama attack, and that the state will act on intelligence against anyone carrying out attacks from Pakistani soil and treat such actors as ‘enemies of Pakistan’. Mr Khan has also reiterated the importance of dialogue to resolve the Kashmir issue, calling on India to introspect and rethink its policy of violence against the Kashmiri youth. In fact, the young local who carried out the attack was himself a victim.

At this critical juncture, there are important points for both the Pakistani and Indian leadership to consider.

For Delhi, which appears to be stuck in a rut and continues to blame Pakistan and rebuff dialogue, it would be practical to take up this offer and engage with Islamabad on the issue of Kashmir and cross-border militancy. Even as India objects to Pakistan’s moral and political support to the Kashmir struggle, it must see the writing on the wall and acknowledge that — just as the US has realised in Afghanistan — there is no military solution to Kashmir.

Mr Khan’s commitment to taking action against militant groups operating on our soil is a promising one which indeed appears to herald a ‘naya Pakistan’ considering Pakistan’s previous association with groups accused by neighbouring countries of militancy. Islamabad should earnestly probe the involvement of the banned Jaish-e-Mohammad — that has been linked to this and past attacks in India-held Kashmir — and other members of militant groups proscribed in the country but that allegedly continue to operate under different names. Ultimately, both sides must understand that this battle will have to be fought diplomatically — through words and not weapons.

No doubt Pulwama is a huge tragedy for India. But the alarming rise of war hysteria in that country — propagated unabashedly by chest-thumping nationalist elements in the Narendra Modi-led government as well as the media and entertainment industries — must be stemmed before it morphs into an unstoppable monster.

Vicious anti-Pakistan attacks by Bollywood actors; cancellations of visits by Indian artists followed by churlish tweets; and blocking of Pakistani sports coverage are steps taken by big influencers to whip up a frenzied hatred in India for Pakistan. These acts trickle down and encourage average citizens to mete out vigilante justice and harass Kashmiri Muslims in India, where harrowing accounts are emerging of people living in fear.

India and Pakistan must collectively work towards engagement and rein in the forces that spew venom. Both must remember that even in times of discord between our governments, saner elements in the artist and sports communities have been the doves of peace.

Published in Dawn, February 20th, 2019

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