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Modi should not isolate Sharif

Shamil Shams
Shamil Shams
September 30, 2016

The confrontation between India and Pakistan will only strengthen the warmongers on both sides. Indian PM Modi and his Pakistani counterpart Sharif need to isolate the hawks in their countries, writes DW's Shamil Shams.

Nepal SAARC Gipfel in Kathmandu 2014
Image: Getty Images/AFP/N. Shrestha

The exchange of gunfire along the Kashmir border has resulted in war hysteria in both India and Pakistan. The war rhetoric has ratcheted up several notches over the past few days. Who is to benefit from this crazy jingoism?

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif are certainly not the beneficiaries. They are business-minded politicians, who want to increase trade and strengthen the economic ties between the two neighboring countries. When Modi came to power two years ago, he invited Sharif to his oath-taking ceremony. Sharif reciprocated the friendly gesture and went to New Delhi with a message of peace. The two premiers held several meetings after that, and there were high expectations that the two leaders could usher in a new era in Indo-Pakistani ties.

The Pakistani military, however, benefits from a perpetual animosity toward India and a narrative of hatred. Similarly, religious fanatics in Pakistan and Hindu nationalists in India also thrive on the enemy discourse.

Shams Shamil Kommentarbild App
DW's Shamil Shams

The Kashmir conflict is a perfect recipe for the warmongers in India and Pakistan. Since the start of the street protests in India-administered Kashmir after the killing of separatist leader Burhan Wani in July, and the subsequent crackdown by Indian forces on the protesters, the two nuclear-armed nations have indulged in a war of words. But most of the war rhetoric in India and Pakistan is meant for domestic consumption. For Indian leaders, it is to divert attention from economic and social injustices caused by the government's development programs. Also, the Indian defense sector and the army profit from the hostility.

In Pakistan, the military wants to make sure that the elected civilian government acts like a puppet. Sharif, in the past, has tried to assert his authority, but each time the army generals brought him down. In the early 1990s, he attempted to sack a military chief, but instead had to resign himself. Now, the tenure of the incumbent army head, Raheel Sharif, is about to expire, and the army supporters are pressuring the premier on his extension.

The 1999 Kargil war was also linked to the Kashmir dispute. While Sharif and then Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee were trying to improve bilateral ties, the Pakistani military initiated a conflict with India in the Kargil region.

Indien Sicherheitskräfte an der Grenze mit Pakistan
Two Pakistani soldiers were killed Thursday in an exchange of fire with Indian troops in KashmirImage: Getty Images/AFP/N. Nanu

What is happening now is not very different from the Kargil conflict. The army believes that Sharif's business interests could eventually bring him closer to Modi. The other countries in the region, including Pakistan's longtime ally China, Afghanistan and Iran are also interested in trade. But economic growth in the region will eventually diminish the power of the Pakistani generals, and also of jihadists who use the Kashmir conflict to maintain their political clout in the country.

Modi recently said that he wanted to isolate Pakistan internationally. He should act maturely. The premier needs to isolate extremists in his country. Modi must also differentiate between Sharif's civilian government and the Pakistani military establishment. Sharif has almost no role in the escalation of tension. He has no control over defense and foreign policy either. Modi's anti-Pakistan slogans will only weaken Sharif and empower the army. He needs to isolate the Pakistani military and not the country's civilian government.

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