The threat of war between India and Pakistan has never been out of sight but the way it spiralled into a standoff that could trigger a nuclear war in 2019 was extremely alarming. Now former US...
The threat of war between India and Pakistan has never been out of sight but the way it spiralled into a standoff that could trigger a nuclear war in 2019 was extremely alarming. Now former US secretary of state Mike Pompeo has disclosed that American intervention helped prevent an escalation in Pakistan-India tension that came close to nuclear war in 2019 following the Balakot airstrikes. In February 2019, Indian air strikes inside Pakistan territory prompted Pakistan to shoot down an Indian warplane and capture the pilot. India had blamed a militant group for a suicide bombing that killed over 40 paramilitary soldiers in Indian-held Kashmir. Pompeo’s revelation highlights the precariousness of the situation between India and Pakistan and how a nuclear conflagration is just a strike or two away in South Asia. Pompeo has claimed that American teams in India and Pakistan convinced both sides that no attack was imminent from either side. Irrespective of the veracity of his claims, the decades-long dispute between India and Pakistan over Kashmir needs some serious consideration.
Another such misunderstanding may result in horrible consequences not only for the two countries but also for the entire region and, perhaps, for the rest of the world too. There has been a complete deadlock in talks between India and Pakistan and diplomacy has come to a standstill. The prospect of India-Pakistan peace is no longer visible even on the distant horizon, and the need for sporadic signals is even more acute now than ever. International interventions – as the one Pompeo has talked about – may not always be available and a single wrong guess may produce devastating results. There have been numerous occasions when Indian and Pakistani leaders have participated in international conferences and have even shared the stage such as at the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) summits, but nobody has been able to nudge the two countries to terminate their mistrust.
India and Pakistan need to bring closure to this perpetual state of anxiety. From Pakistan’s perspective, it is imperative that India cancel its illegal annexation of Occupied Jammu and Kashmir; allow Kashmiris their right to self-determination; and withdraw its occupying forces. Equally important for India is to tone down its rhetoric against Pakistan at international forums. India is the host of the SCO summit this year but Prime Minister Narendra Modi appears to be in no mood to show any reconciliatory gestures. Modi has his own grand diplomatic dreams of India emerging as a world power but its prolonged patch of strained ties with China and Pakistan is highly detrimental to its own ambitions. Though the US may have – per its claims – helped the two countries avoid a nuclear war, it is not doing much to resolve the Kashmir issue. America, China, and Russia could all play a role in diffusing tensions in the region but if recent history is any guide, that seems highly unlikely – leaving us to deal with the perpetual fear of war looming large over us.