Mistaking Goodwill for Weakness – No Space for Mistakes in a Nuclear South Asia
The founding father of India Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi said, “An eye for an eye will make the world go blind”, a quote that is still trying to find home in his India. In terms of geography and demography, India is the largest country in the South Asian region. Purportedly, this land of travellers, meditators, and spirituality, India has always had a negative posture and an aggressive disposition towards its neighbours in the region, especially Pakistan.
Despite the natural advantages that India enjoys over its neighbours, there is not even a single country in the entire region that does not have a dispute with India, be it Pakistan, China, Bhutan, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Myanmar or Bangladesh. The arrogance of the Indian leadership, combined with its viewing of regional and international politics as a zero-sum game has led all of its neighbours to be antagonized. The pursuance of the duplicitous Chanakyan thought of foreign policy, the Indian state is responsible for giving birth to security dilemmas in the region, urging other states to go for securitization. This has in turn given birth to arms race and militarization of the entire region and has turned South Asia into an active nuclear minefield.
India today, has been hijacked by far-right Hindu extremists with the ruling party Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP – political wing of Hindu extremist violent organisation RSS) at the helm of affairs.
Since the BJP came into power in 2014, its narrow and exclusionist policies have resulted in irreparable fissures in the Indian society. Currently, the Indian society is extremely polarized with large segments of the society completely alienated and marginalized. The rule of far-right Hindu extremists has given rise to hyper-nationalism in India, resulting in brutal oppression of minorities in the country.
General elections in India are right around the corner and all the political parties are scrambling for votes and support. A general practice during the elections in India is the propagation of anti-Pakistan rhetoric by mainstream political parties in order to mobilize the public sentiment to garner sympathy and support and this time in no different. As predicted by many political pundits like Ajai Sahni and Ashok Swain, the BJP government will orchestrate something in order to escalate the situation with Pakistan, either on the working boundary or in Kashmir in order to distract the public from its own incompetence, non-delivery on promises it made during the last election campaign and to divert attention from the internal ills of the country that have accentuated over the past four and a half years.
The recent episode of military escalation between Pakistan and India is a link of the same chain that the political pundits were pointing at. Tensions ensued right after the Pulwama attack on February 14, 2019. In a typical knee-jerk reaction, India started to blame Pakistan for the attack against its security forces in Indian Occupied Kashmir (IOK). Given the negative historical baggage between the two neighbouring states and the volatility of bilateral relations for the past four and a half years, it was expected that things might escalate drastically.
The situation took a turn for the worse when India violated Pakistan’s air space and carried out an alleged airstrike in Balakot town of Pakistan on February 26, 2019. Pakistan retaliated a day later on February 27, 2019 by carrying out airstrikes of its own in IOK (while remaining in its own airspace) and shot down 2 pursuant Indian fighter jets and captured an Indian Air Force (IAF) pilot (Wing Commander Abhinandan) as well. The situation after that only got worse by both sides blaming each other for the escalation while simultaneously exchanging heavy artillery and machine-gun fire across the Line of Control (LoC) and the working boundary which resulted in a substantial loss of precious human lives and destruction of infrastructure.
Despite having all the reasons to retaliate and subjecting to a tit-for-tat strategy vis-à-vis India, the Pakistani leadership (civilian and military) took the high road and acted in a mature and calculated manner. Right from his inaugural speech after being elected as the Prime Minister of Pakistan till his last address to the nation on February 27, 2019, Imran Khan has been extending a message of peace and reconciliation towards India.
In his inaugural speech as PM Imran Khan clearly said, “If India will take one step forward, Pakistan will take two.” The offers of peace and reconciliation by Imran Khan were not mere rhetoric or wordplay. The Pakistani PM’s words were met with substantial action as well such as the opening up of the Kartaarpura border with India. Pakistan had also made offers to India for bilateral dialogue to resolve their issues in a peaceful manner including terrorism which is a mutual threat for both countries.
Right after the Pulwama attack, Pakistan was one of the first countries to condemn the attack; despite the fact India blamed Pakistan without any proof or initial investigation.
Messages of peace and solidarity were extended to India by the entire Pakistani political and military leadership which were met by blame and threats from the former side. PM Imran even offered to carry out investigations into the Pulwama attack if actionable evidence is provided by India (but to no avail). As a goodwill gesture and sincere effort to de-escalate the situation, PM Khan announced and followed through with the release of the captured IAF pilot Abhinandan on March 01, 2019. Besides all that, PM Khan had been making efforts to contact his Indian counterpart to help de-escalate the tension between the two nuclear-armed states but again, to no avail. Thanks to the arrogance and ignorance of Indian leadership.
PM Khan’s gestures of goodwill and overtures of peace and reconciliation were met with equally by the leadership of the Armed Forces of Pakistan. In his multiple briefings to the media, Pakistan’s military spokesperson Maj. Gen. Asif Ghafoor reiterated the message of peace and reconciliation that was given by PM Khan to India before. The spokesperson, while warning India against underestimating Pakistan’s capability & will to respond and of retaliation in case of any misadventure by the latter emphasized on the significance of peace and stability in the region and urged India to engage in dialogue with Pakistan.
Unlike the Indian media, the Pakistani media also carried itself maturely. It resorted to objective and well researched reporting keeping maintaining good standards of journalistic ethics and norms, all the while spreading the message of peace and avoided creating war hysteria.
Despite PM Khan’s sincere offers of peace and reconciliation to India, the latter’s civilian and military leadership reciprocated with outright arrogance and warmongering attitude. Indian media subjected to the most profane form of journalism, all the while spreading misinformation and creating war hysteria. Rather than accepting the goodwill gestures and offers of peace and reconciliation from Pakistan, the Indian leadership embarked on a yet another wave of levelling baseless accusations against Pakistan, while simultaneously threatening Pakistan of far more severe consequences and actions.
While Pakistan is acting maturely and making overtures of peace and reconciliation, India on the other hand is subjecting to violence and more escalation of the already deteriorated situation. A new wave of abductions, illegal arrests and killings have commenced in the IOK by Indian occupying forces. The Indian military has amped up its offensive from across the LoC in Kashmir and the working boundary as well. Instead of letting better sense prevail, Indian PM Modi is trying to further escalate the tension with Pakistan by giving outrageous statements. India, particularly the BJP is using the current escalation with Pakistan as a carte blanche to intensify its atrocities against innocent Kashmiris and other minorities in India for the sake of political point scoring and a victory in the upcoming elections.
The policy makers in India should realize the gravity of the situation at hand. Pakistan and India are two nuclear powers and Kashmir is the central flash point. India should tread its way very carefully. The risk of a nuclear Holocaust is too high in the region due to India’s misadventure against Pakistan. A nuclearized South Asia just cannot afford any conflict in the region.
Pakistan was in its right as a sovereign state to retaliate to Indian aggression and breaching its air space in the context of the violation of United Nations Charter. Despite being attacked, Pakistan never wanted any escalation in the region and always desire peace. Pakistan is sincere in its efforts for establishing peace in the region. A proof of that is Pakistan’s contribution and success in War against Terrorism and efforts for peaceful resolution to the Afghanistan conundrum.
India should not underestimate Pakistan’s capability, will and resolve in defending itself. Pakistan does not want war but it won’t shy away from it if push comes to shove (as demonstrated on February 27). India should not mistake Pakistan’s goodwill gestures and desire for peace as weakness. It should avoid chanting for war. War is a primitive idea. War in all its forms is harmful and destructive. It kills us, kills our livelihood, kills our freedom, kills out progress and kills our environment. Political crooks like Modi use the war rhetoric to fool and control people for their own vested political interests.
South Asia is poor, populated and polluted. This region needs to reject war and devastation, strive for peace and development as reiterated many times by Pakistani PM Imran Khan. In this age of nuclear weapons, engaging in any sort of limited warfare or military adventure of any sort is a slippery road to a nuclear war which will not only be suicidal for Pakistan and India but will wreak havoc on the entire region.
It is in the best interest of everyone that the Indian government acts sensibly and responsibly, drop its selfish and arrogant behaviour, reciprocate the peace and goodwill gestures extended by Pakistan in order to help de-escalate and normalise the situation. It should resume dialogue with Pakistan on all pending issues and disputes and allow the region to be peaceful so that it can embark on the path to progress and prosperity.
In the words of PM Khan, “Give peace a chance”, because in this age of nuclear weapons, there is no way to peace, in fact peace is the ONLY WAY.