In Balakot's aftermath, Pakistan should take a measured, calculated approach, but India needs to silence the war drums.
This morning, Indian military planes violated the Line of Control (LoC), intruding from the Muzaffarabad sector. According to Director-General Inter-Services Public Relations Major-General Asif Ghafoor, "timely and effective response from Pakistan Air Force" forced the Indian aircraft to release the "payload in haste while escaping which fell near Balakot".
In the midst of rising tensions between the two neighbours, Dawn.com spoke to analysts to get their take on the current situation.
—Zahid Hussain, senior journalist and Dawn columnist
It’s certainly a military escalation by India and it can lead to serious consequences. Prime Minister Narendra Modi is known for his brinkmanship but this could prove to be a very costly gamble for him. It was very clear that he was going to take some action after Pulwama and it has come.
It is much more serious than India carrying out surgical strikes along the LoC in 2016. Uri was very different; nobody believed what the Indians were saying at that time. There was no clarity whether there was an air attack or intrusion by the Indian military itself.
It was kept very ambiguous and there were lots of question marks raised even in India on that claim of surgical strikes, but this time there was an act of aggression and both Pakistan and India have accepted that.
This is a calculated gamble by Modi, who feels that because of its growing global influence, India can take this kind of risk. But the international community may not have the same kind of appetite for war or conflict in one of the most combustible regions of the world.
It also poses a serious challenge for Pakistan on what to do next. Certainly, Pakistan has laid down its rule that it wants to resolve the problems with India through negotiations, but now with this kind of escalation, there is a big question mark on what Islamabad’s options are going to be.
What is needed now is to show a response, but what kind of response should it be? It should be a calculated one.
Certainly, while there has to be some kind of response to this military incursion, it does not mean we should go and attack or cross the Indian border or the LoC. But certainly, the message should be clear that this kind of attack cannot be tolerated. So that depends on the leadership.
We should also make it clear that all conflicts and problems should be resolved through negotiations.
But a major challenge is going to be the international community, and that will be Pakistan’s greatest challenge because at this point in time, India has managed to divert attention from its atrocities in Kashmir and has shifted blame on Pakistan.
I think it’ll be a big challenge for Pakistani diplomats to mobilise international support against this kind of aggression.
We have to convince the international community, because what India is saying is that this was a surgical strike and not military aggression. But we have to convince the world that this was brazen aggression.
I think that message should go out as forcefully as possible.
—Anam Zakaria, author Between the Great Divide: A Journey into Pakistan-administered Kashmir
Modi’s policies have been hardline from the beginning; with the upcoming elections and the fact that a considerable segment of his vote bank is demanding a ‘tough response,’ it was only expected that there would be some action taken by India.
To be successful in that regard, India needs to emphasise that it has come out victorious. At this point, however, there are conflicting news about the damage caused. If one is to believe Pakistan’s version, it seems that Indian’s actions hold more symbolic value than anything else.
The pressure on Pakistan to curb militancy, the recent Financial Action Task Force (FATF) review, the international condemnation of the Pulwama attacks and the focus of much of Indian media on how Pulwama was Pakistan-sponsored rather than introspecting on the failure of Indian policy in Kashmir — all these have also contributed to the current climate, in which such actions can be 'justified' to eradicate the problem in Kashmir, i.e. Pakistani influence.
What this does is that it overshadows genuine grievances that Kashmiris have, which will not be solved by violating the Line of Control. If anything, this will only heighten hostilities on the LoC and impact the Kashmiris gravely.
Pakistan needs to have a measured and calculated response in the immediate aftermath; the situation can easily escalate and the consequences for both sides would be catastrophic. This is not a time for chauvinistic nationalism on either side of the border.
The immediate steps should include relocating Kashmiris living by the LoC to ensure maximum safety and minimal causalities in case the situation worsens further. In the medium or long term, the only solution to Kashmir lies in dialogue, of which Kashmiris from both sides must be an integral part.
—Zoha Waseem, PhD candidate at the Department of War Studies, King’s College London
It was long anticipated that India was going to retaliate to Pulwama with a military response. There was the idea that because Pulwama was a bigger attack than Uri, the response had to be bigger and more dramatic as well, primarily to appease the domestic audiences and electorate in India.
Additionally, a military response had to come within a certain period of time; with Indian election campaigns kicking off in April, if Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party did not respond in a timely manner, having publicly claimed that it would, it would deteriorate Modi’s already grim chances of electoral success.
In press conferences, we saw Pakistan’s civil-military leadership warning India against a military response and against trying to isolate Pakistan internationally. This of course would not go down well with the hawks in India and thus only made India’s military response inevitable. That, quite briefly, is the local context.
The ongoing international developments that are influencing the local contexts in both countries are, of course, the Afghan peace talks and the FATF meeting in Paris.
Pakistan has blamed India for trying to weaken its international standing and isolate it, ahead of the Afghan peace talks, the FATF meeting and Kulbhushan Jadhav’s case hearing at the International Court of Justice, as well as the visit of the Saudi crown prince.
India has indeed been interested in ensuring that Pakistan stays on FATF’s grey list, if not graduate to the black list. Interestingly, France appears to be getting more involved as well and has called for a ban on Jaish-e-Mohammad at the UN Security Council. The UNSC has also condemned the Pulwama attack.
It is unclear, however, that once the dust settles on Pulwama and today’s incursion, to what extent will the international community be able to press Pakistan given its geopolitical importance in the region.
In the immediate aftermath, it is going to serve Pakistan best to play the violation down so as to appease domestic audiences. Pakistani officials should refrain from any promises of escalation and avoid fuelling this conflict further.
In the medium and long term, Pakistan needs to try and improve its legitimacy and focus on strengthening its negotiating position vis-à-vis the Afghan peace talks, the FATF and its neighbouring countries.
It makes sense for India to build up the hype over today's incursion, just as much as it makes sense for Pakistan to play it down.
What is interesting is the amount of alarmism generated by international observers who have, once again, become concerned about two nuclear powers going head to head and asking if this conflict will escalate towards the use of nuclear weapons.
Such alarmism has existed since 1998. It will be interesting to see what happens next. If the conflict de-escalates, will we see rationalism prevail within these circles and triumph over alarmism and warmongering?
That will depend upon how civil-military leadership on both sides influences security discourses in media circles and, by extension, on social media.
Ideally, further conflict can only be prevented if India and Pakistan resolve their long-standing disputes, particularly the question of Kashmir, and reach an understanding whereby both states mutually respect the other’s security and sovereignty.
—F.S. Aijazuddin, author and Dawn columnist
Modi has gone too far. The best short-term response is to mobilise international support for Pakistan's efforts at a dialogue with India. Neither China, the US nor Saudi Arabia want to see a conflagration in this region and they would not like to wait until the ashes are cleared.
The best long-term response is the mature realisation that in war, it does not matter who wins or who loses. The only ones who matter are the survivors.
The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.