A clear and present danger

The managed instability that characterises the relationship between India and Pakistan is unraveling at what can only be described as an alarming rate. Unprovoked firing along the Line of Control (LoC) on the morning of 29th September killed two Pakistani soldiers and has been described by India as a ‘surgical strike’. This was quickly refuted by Pakistan but the incident adds to a growing list of escalating tensions. India has now pulled out of the upcoming Saarc conference, thereby triggering its automatic cancellation — but yet to be formally confirmed. India has proposed building new hydroelectric projects on three rivers to the obvious detriment of Pakistan, and India has ratcheted up tensions in Occupied Kashmir with the killing of a popular activist followed by a murderous and disproportionate response that has left innumerable dead and injured. The threat level has risen perceptibly in the last 10 days as India seeks to isolate Pakistan diplomatically.

Taken all together this amounts to what can only be seen by Pakistan as a dangerous escalation of an already deteriorated security environment either side of the border. If India is to characterise this as a response to perceived failures by Pakistan then it is entirely disproportionate and sadly typical of the prevailing mindset in India today, which seems bent on pursuing a path of conflict rather than grasping what there is left of the nascent peace process. A diplomatic counteroffensive is now under way but it is too soon to measure its effectiveness. The Prime Minister has held a meeting subsequent to which he said the government has to remain focused on what was described as ‘A very real threat from India.’ That reality must not be underestimated and stripping away the windy rhetoric that plays to the nationalist gallery across the border it is possible to discern a lean into military confrontation as a possible, indeed potential, outcome. In such an event whoever ‘won’ such a conflict both sides would be the loser; and the usual processes of back-channel communication at times of heightened tension must be assumed to be at the very least under strain.

Let us be clear and unequivocal — Pakistan does not seek or desire armed conflict with India. The danger now is that either side may find themselves on a slippery slope. If India pushes the military envelope too far Pakistan is going to have to make a response that must not only be proportional but effective in terms of countering whatever aggression India has displayed. That could include the deployment of air and ground assets, including armour depending on the nature of Indian aggression. This is not some table-top exercise played out in a military college; this is potentially an outbreak of armed conflict between two heavily armed states with a long history of animus and both with the capacity to inflict considerable harm on each other, both civil and military. Pulling back from conflict once force of arms is engaged is difficult as history both ancient and (very) modern tells us. Pakistan must, and soon, engage with the rest of the world by whatever channel in order to inform states not directly involved of the clear and present dangers presented by the moves that India is making. It is moving beyond the bellicosity of rhetoric into having a potential not just to spark war between our two states but profoundly destabilise an entire region with consequences that are global in their impact. That cannot and must not be allowed to happen.

Once again let us also be clear and unequivocal — if Pakistan is attacked by India it will respond in appropriate measure, but we hope and trust that point will not be reached and that cool heads and steady hands will ultimately prevail. Dial back on the hyperbole Mr Modi before you talk India — and Pakistan — into something both are going to regret.

Published in The Express Tribune, September 30th, 2016.