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Why warmongering is not the way forward
September 26, 2016
The warmongers in India and Pakistan thrive on the Kashmir conflict. Experts say that the business-minded premiers of the two countries, Modi and Sharif, need to take matters in their own hands and isolate the hawks.
Two years ago, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif wanted to bury the hatchet and steer their countries to the path of peace and prosperity. Modi made the first move - he invited Sharif to attend his oath-taking ceremony in New Delhi. Sharif opted to reciprocate Modi's friendly gesture and went to the Indian capital in May 2014 with a "message of peace." Experts said it was an unprecedented step by a Pakistani leader to engage with a Hindu nationalist like Modi on such a high-level.
There were high hopes for the improvement of bilateral relations between the nuclear-armed South Asian countries. Like Modi, Sharif, too, had business interests in mind, and he believed that friendly ties with a country set to become an economic giant in the next ten years would also boost Pakistan's failing economy.
War mongers vs peace makers
But the business communities in India and Pakistan, which want cordial ties between the two nations, are not as powerful as their military establishments and warmongers. And the hawks on both sides of the border thrive on sustaining hatred and conflicts.
The major bone of contention between India and Pakistan has always been Kashmir, and India and Pakistan have fought two of their three wars since independence in 1947 over Kashmir, which they both claim in full but rule in part. Since 1989, Muslim insurgents have been fighting Indian forces in the Indian-administered part of Kashmir - a region of 12 million people, about 70 percent of whom are Muslim.
New Delhi and Islamabad have been engaged in a war of words since the killing of separatist Kashmiri leader Burhan Wani on July 8. Protests against Indian rule in Kashmir and clashes between separatists and soldiers have claimed over 70 lives. Life in the capital Srinagar and parts of the valley has been paralyzed by these protests and a curfew imposed by the state government.
But the militant attack on Indian soldiers in Kashmir's Uri area flared up the situation. On September 18, suspected militants killed at least 17 Indian troops and wounded 30 in India-administered Kashmir. Heavily armed militants launched an early morning raid on the Indian army's 12th brigade infantry base housing hundreds of soldiers in Uri, west of the region's main city of Srinagar, the Indian military said. All four gunmen were killed by Indian troops.
The Indian army said the rebels had infiltrated the Indian part of Kashmir from Pakistan. Lt. General Ranbir Singh, the army's director general of military operations, said the initial investigations suggested that the militants belonged to Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammad group, which has been active in Kashmir for over a decade.
In the span of just three months, the business talk and the improvement of economy have been replaced by ultra-nationalistic war hysteria in both countries, with warmongers ruling the roost.
Pakistani army chief General Raheel Sharif said Friday, September 23, that his troops were capable of countering any threat to the country's security.
"… let there be no doubt that our valiant armed forces have the capability to counter complete threat spectrum and Insha Allah (by the grace of Allah), with the backing of entire nation, we will defend each and every inch of our beloved country, no matter what the cost," Raheel Sharif said.
"There has never been a real peace process between India and Pakistan. It is only a 'cooling down' of emotions and tensions for a brief period of time. This has been happening since 1947," Farooq Sulehria, a London-based journalist and researcher, told DW.
Idrees Ahmed, a political activist in Lahore, believed that war rhetotic would only benefit the two countries' armies, defense industries, ultra-nationalists, and religious extremists. He is also of the opinion that India should differentiate between Pakistan's civilian leadership and its military generals.
"Who are the Indian politicians doing a favor to? Certainly not to PM Sharif's civilian government. They are giving a reason to Pakistan's army generals and their stooges - the Islamists - to create an atmosphere of hatred and jingoism in the country," Ahmed told DW.
India, however, has some genuine concerns about Pakistan-based terrorists groups that it believes are creating unrest on its soil. The memory of Mumbai attacks is still fresh in the minds of many Indians.
In 2008, Indo-Pakistani relations broke down completely after ten Pakistan-based gunmen carried out coordinated terror attacks in various parts of India's financial capital Mumbai, killing 166 people. New Delhi accuses Pakistan's spy agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), and the banned Lashkar-e-Taiba militant group of orchestrating the attacks - a charge Islamabad denies.
Despite Pakistan's claims that it is fighting against Islamist militants, countries like the US, Afghanistan and India are not convinced.
"India is still not persuaded that Pakistan was embarking on a comprehensive combat against terrorism," India's former ambassador to Islamabad and political commentator G. Parthasarathy told DW.
The Indian government believes that Pakistan is targeting only those terrorists who are acting against its own state machinery, Parthasarathy added, referring to the masterminds and planners of the Mumbai attack. Parthasarathy says it is impossible for India to take Pakistan's claims of establishing peace with India seriously as long as the perpetrators of the attacks are still at large.
In her recent UN Speech, Eenam Gambhir, India's First Secretary in the Permanent Mission of India to the UN, raised the same point.
India sees Pakistan as "a terrorist state," she said at the United Nations General Aseembly, accusing Islamabad of diverting international aid towards training, financing and supporting terror groups as 'militant proxies' against neighboring countries, the Hindustan Times newspaper reported.
"The worst violation of human rights is terrorism," she said. "When practiced as an instrument of state policy, it is a war crime. What my country and our other neighbors are facing today is Pakistan's long-standing policy of sponsoring terrorism, the consequences of which have spread well beyond our region," she alleged.
The war narrative
The situation could easily get out of control, and the fact that the two South Asian nemeses possess nuclear bombs should be a matter of concern for the international community.
But Michael Kugelman, a South Asia analyst at the Washington-based Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, is optimistic that the recent escalation will not lead to a full-fledged war between India and Pakistan.
"The two countries have fought three major wars, but they all occurred before 1998, when both nations became declared nuclear weapons states. A fourth war occurred in 1999, but it was a limited conflict, with Pakistani soldiers infiltrating into Kashmir and fighting Indian troops for two months before withdrawing back across the border," said Kugelman.
"The main deterrent to a hot war on the subcontinent is nuclear weapons," he added.
But those who favor conflict and war in New Delhi and Islamabad have succeeded in changing the course of Indian-Pakistani relations.
It will be a Herculean task for Modi and Sharif to defuse tension and engage in peace talks again. For that, PM Modi needs to address the grievances of the Kashmiri people and stop the use of force against protesters. He recently said in a speech that India and Pakistan should wage a war against poverty. If he really means that, he must make sure that his Pakistani counterpart Sharif has a bigger say in Pakistani politics than the Islamic country's military generals.