A RESPONSE was pledged and retaliatory military action appears to have been taken.

Once again, few facts have been indisputably established, though Pakistani authorities have claimed to have symbolically targeted unspecified targets in India using aircraft that did not cross the Line of Control or the international border. An Indian pilot is in Pakistani custody after his plane crashed in Azad Jammu and Kashmir during what appear to have been aerial skirmishes along the LoC.

What, if anything, happens next is unknown.

What should happen is crystal clear: India and Pakistan should immediately cease hostilities; the international community should urgently intervene diplomatically; and at all costs, war between India and Pakistan must be avoided. The military action taken by Pakistan was not an escalation, it was arguably a necessary and proportionate response after India bombed Pakistani territory a day earlier. India must resist initiating another round of military action and the world must counsel restraint to India. From here, the distance towards unthinkable conflict and destruction could be shorter than war strategists, planners and decision-makers in either country recognise.

Prime Minister Imran Khan reiterated his offer for dialogue, including on the issue of terrorism, with India.

Meanwhile, DG ISPR Maj Gen Asif Ghafoor went to great lengths to stress that while Pakistan will respond if attacked, both national sentiment and the state are in favour of peace prevailing in the region. The message of the political and military leadership is humane, sensible and pragmatic. The people of Pakistan and the media have also emphasised that they reject war and want peace to prevail in the region.

Has India really considered the potential effects of its war rhetoric and actions?

Read: War is not a picnic, former Indian spy chief warns BJP-led govt

Pakistan and India have fought four wars, three of which have centred on the disputed Kashmir region. Each of those wars has taken the lives of numerous soldiers and inflicted immense losses on the people of the two countries. As Prime Minister Khan himself said, the ongoing fight against militancy inside Pakistan has vividly demonstrated the terrible cost of war in terms of human suffering, casualties and death. An unreasonable and enraged India appears to have lost sight of the fact that war inflicts a great cost on both sides.

In the nuclear age, there could be mutual destruction on an incomprehensible scale if war breaks out. Whatever India’s compulsions, what goal could possibly justify potentially turning swathes of this region into uninhabitable wastelands and killing soldiers and citizens in numbers that could dwarf the combined losses in the two world wars fought in the last century?

India is enraged and unreasonable, Pakistan is aggrieved but resolute — and the world is rightly alarmed. The acute danger and risks of the current moment should not be underplayed. But there is always an alternative to war in this region; India must recognise that and reach for peace.

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