A reality check in South Asia

Shahid M Amin

After a very tense period, since Uri terrorist incident on September 18, 2016, tensions between Pakistan and India seem to be abating. India has allowed thousands of its nationals, who had been evacuated from areas close to the Pakistan border, to return to their homes. Military officers from both sides are in contact with each other to defuse border tensions. However, the media war in the two countries continues at full throttle. If words could kill, the media on both sides would have done so by now. The Indian media, in particular, has been gripped by war hysteria. Dissent is dubbed as treason and voices of sanity are being silenced.
There is need for a reality check on both sides. Hard words break no bones. Neither India nor Pakistan is going to be brought down by venom in the media. War is out of the question between nuclear states. Pakistan possesses more nuclear weapons than India and its missiles can reach any target in India. Therefore, the Indian government and media need to keep matters in perspective. They are so worked up by killing of 19 soldiers in Uri, but a nuclear war would mean the death of millions and destruction of whole cities. Surely, no sane person in India, or for that matter in Pakistan, would want that to happen. If Modi is raising war fever to gain popularity in forthcoming elections, he is playing with fire, as passions can sometimes outweigh wisdom. Another reality check for Modi is that Indian efforts to isolate Pakistan or get it declared as a ‘terrorist state’ cannot succeed. Pakistan is a nuclear state and has a key geostrategic location. Washington continues to see Pakistan as an important player in the context of Afghanistan, where USA remains embroiled in the longest war in its history. The USA and NATO appreciate that Pakistan’s armed forces are engaged in a major campaign to crush terrorists, who pose a threat to the West’s own security. Important countries like China, Saudi Arabia and Turkey continue to maintain a strong relationship with Pakistan. Russia is coming closer to Pakistan, as was shown by the holding of joint military exercises with Pakistan last week, despite Indian efforts to persuade Moscow to cancel these exercises. Apart from some satellite countries in India’s neighbourhood, no country in the Third World or in Europe is likely to join India in its anti-Pakistan campaign.
The greatest reality check for New Delhi is the unprecedented anti-India agitation in Indian-occupied Kashmir, since July 2016, which shows no sign of abatement. It is notable that this time the protestors are not only demanding ‘Azaadi’ (freedom from India) but are also showing pro-Pakistan sentiments. Thousands are seen waving the Pakistani flag and the martyrs —victims of Indian oppression— are being buried, wrapped up in the Pakistani flag. This Kashmiri popular agitation knocks the bottom out of the Indian allegation that the uprising is handiwork of Pakistani incitement or sabotage. Men and women, young and old, would not keep coming out daily in the streets in thousands simply because Pakistan is telling them to do so. The present Kashmiri agitation is indigenous and has mass support and no amount of Indian propaganda can change that reality.
At some point of time, moderate voices will be raised in India who will urge their government to come to terms with the reality of unending popular opposition in Kashmir to Indian rule. India prides itself in being a democracy but is doing the exact opposite in Kashmir. Despite keeping an occupation army of 700,000 soldiers, India has been unable to crush the Kashmiri resistance, even though for the last three months, it has unleashed a reign of terror. The use of pellet guns has blinded so many Kashmiris and killed numerous unarmed people, but the protests keep gaining strength. Indian opinion cannot forever turn a blind eye to this ground reality in Kashmir. Many Indians are bound to ask as to what happened to Mahatma Gandhi’s preaching of non-violence. The founder of India led a life-long peaceful resistance against British rule, but the roles have now reversed in Kashmir. This oppression defames India’s own freedom struggle and is a blot on the name of Indian democracy.
At the same time, there is also a case for reality check in Pakistan. We have been tardy in combatting terrorism in Pakistan and slow to react against foreign and local extremists who made sanctuaries in Pakistan’s tribal areas. The stigma of terrorism is hurting Pakistan’s image in the world and is the main cause for the relative isolation of Pakistan at present. India has fully exploited global revulsion against terrorism to discredit Pakistan. Recently, 22 Pakistani special envoys were sent to various countries. The normal protocol is that the head of state/government in the country visited by the special envoy receives him. But there are no reports that Pakistani special envoys were received personally by any head of state/government. On return, the special envoys have briefed parliament that Pakistan was facing criticism in many countries for harbouring terrorists. They were questioned as to what Pakistan was doing to curb Hafiz Saeed of Lashkar-e-Tayyaba and Maulana Masood of Jaish Muhammad, who are accused of cross-border terrorism in India and are on the UN list of banned groups.
Let us be clear. Pakistan’s national interests are far more important than any rationale to tolerate such groups. Can the killing of 19 Indian soldiers at Uri or other attacks of this kind bring down India? Instead, such acts of terrorism play right into India’s hands. Following the Uri incident, the net result was that the growing world attention towards the anti-India popular upheaval in Kashmir was diverted and instead the attention became focused on the issue of terrorism and Indo-Pakistan tensions. The hard fact is that the Kashmir cause, since the 1990s, has been hurt, not helped, by terrorism and militancy. At present, when there is global opposition to terrorism, a peaceful political struggle in Kashmir will secure far greater world sympathy and support, than any acts of terrorism. Let us not forget that Pakistan was achieved through a peaceful political struggle, and not through the barrel of the gun or suicide bombings.
— The writer served as Pakistan’s Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, the ex-Soviet Union, France, Nigeria and Libya.

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