′Right-wing benefiting from border conflict′ | Asia| An in-depth look at news from across the continent | DW | 10.01.2013
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'Right-wing benefiting from border conflict'

As border tension between Pakistan and India continues to escalate, the US has urged the two South Asian countries to keep their cool. Many analysts see the border clashes as a setback to the Indo-Pak peace process.

The US and United Nations have called upon New Delhi and Islamabad to ease tension over violence that broke out on their shared border in Kashmir and resolve the conflict through dialogue.

The nuclear-armed South Asian neighbors have accused each other of border violations along the Line of Control (LoC) at the disputed Kashmir region. On Sunday, Pakistan said India killed one of its soldiers along the LoC. And India alleged that Pakistani forces had beheaded one of its two soldiers killed in Kashmir. On Thursday, Islamabad claimed a Pakistani solider had been shot and killed by "unprovoked" Indian firing.

A territorial dispute over the northern Kashmir region has been going on between India and Pakistan for more than six decades. About 40 UN military observers in Kashmir monitor the LoC ceasefire between India and Pakistan that was officially agreed upon in 1949. Pakistan and India have fought two wars over Kashmir since their independence from Britain in 1947.

Victoria Nuland (Photo: AP Photo/Vangel Tanurovski)

Victoria Nuland says Washington has been trying to help de-escalate tensions

Victoria Nuland, spokeswoman of the US State Department, said on Thursday that Washington had been working through its embassies in India and Pakistan to de-escalate the tension.

"We've been counseling both governments to de-escalate, to work through this issue, to continue the consultations between them at a high level that we understand are ongoing now," Nuland told the media.

A setback

Experts say the border clashes between India and Pakistan have exposed the fragility of the Indo-Pakistani peace process, which took off last year after a long hiatus.

The 2008 terrorist attacks in Mumbai - believed to have been carried out by Lashkar-e-Taiba, a Pakistan-based terrorist group - had been a big set back to peace efforts between the two rival nations. But analysts say the hanging of Ajmal Kasab, the sole surviving gunman of the attacks, in November would have beena good opportunity for both nations to bury the hatchet and move ahead.

Farooq Sulehria, a Pakistani journalist and researcher, told DW that every time relations between the two countries began to ease, there were always some "elements" which tried to derail the peace process.

Pakistan-made missile Ghauri, which has range of 1,500 kilometers capable of carrying nuclear war head, is on display during the Pakistan National Day parade in Islamabad, Pakistan on Wednesday, March 23, 2005 in Islamabad (Photo: ddp images/AP Photo/B.K.Bangash)

Conflict with India is financially beneficial for Pakistan's military, say some experts

"There has never been a real peace process between India and Pakistan. It is only 'cooling down' of emotions and tensions for a brief period of time. This has been happening since 1947," Sulehria said, adding that in the absence of pro-peace mass movements in both India and Pakistan, the ruling classes of the two nations would not be forced to normalize relations. He said that the conflict suited the rulers of both nations.

On Thursday, Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar held a press conference in Islamabad and refuted Indian allegations that Pakistan was responsible for the escalation of border tension. But Sulehria told DW that Khar or any other civilian leader in Pakistan had little say when it came to Indo-Pakistani relations; it was the Pakistani military, he said, which really controlled foreign policy matters, particularly Pakistan's India-centric policies. He was of the view that lasting peace between India and Pakistan could not be reached without the civilian control of Pakistan's India policies.

Experts like Sulehria also say that the tug-of-war between India and Pakistan over the control of Afghanistan after the departure of NATO troops from the war-torn country in 2014 is also causing acrimony between the two nations.

"One possibility is that Pakistan might be trying to show India and the US that it will continue to have power after the NATO withdrawal in 2014. India, on the other hand, might be trying to signal to Washington that the withdrawal form Afghanistan will jeopardize India's interests and peace and stability in the region," Sulehria commented.

Baseer Naveed, senior researcher at the Asian Human Rights Commission in Hong Kong, told DW that if conflict persisted, fundamentalist groups in India and Pakistan would benefit. He said that the right-wing groups in both countries wanted war and animosity.

'Good work'

Shamshad Ahmed Khan, Pakistan's former foreign secretary, believed that the recent peace talks between Islamabad and New Delhi only focused on "superficial issues." Alluding to the Kashmir dispute, Khan told DW that unless the two nations resolved the "core conflicts," incidents such as the ones that happened at the border in Kashmir over the weekend would keep happening.

Pakistani Interior Minister Rehman Malik (R) shakes hands with Indian Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde during the launch of new visa agreement in New Delhi on December 14, 2012 (Photo: PRAKASH SINGH/AFP/Getty Images)

Indian and Pakistani activists are hopeful about recent peace initiatives

But other observers, such as Kapil Kak, a Delhi-based strategic expert, point out that ties have generally been improving between the two rivals. Kak told the media that India and Pakistan had been able to do some good work in the past year such as opening up bilateral trade and relaxing visa regulations. He said that neither side would want to undo all the hard work.

"India's reaction was only to make noise so that the government is not seen as wimpish two years before national elections," Kak told AFP. "It is in nobody's interest to escalate tensions as the two countries have larger areas of convergence."

Should the two let tension escalate into a war, millions of lives would be at stake. Sarmad Manzoor, secretary general of South Asian Free Media Association (SAFMA), told DW that the media could play a pivotal role in preserving peace. He called on both Indian and Pakistani media to abstain from spreading hatred and instead highlight positive aspects of Indo-Pakistani relations to defuse tension.

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