After a fortnight of calm Indian forces have renewed firing across the Line of Control (LoC) and Working Boundary (WB).
Last Tuesday, a 25-year-old construction worker was killed in unprovoked Indian firing in the Khuiratta Sector, prompting the Foreign Office to summon the Indian Deputy High Commissioner and hand him a demarche. As expected, the issue came up for discussion at the army corps commanders’ monthly meeting on Wednesday, with the top brass warning that renewed ceasefire violations along the LoC and WB pose a threat to regional stability. The concern, of course, is that aside from the exchange of fire causing loss of life, any miscalculation on New Delhi’s part could lead to unforeseen consequences.
Last September, for instance, India had claimed to have carried out a surgical strike inside Pakistani side of Kashmir. The claim was dismissed as false not only by Pakistan but many within that country as well. An actual adventure of this nature could easily spin out of control.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has constantly been retching up tensions with Pakistan, escalating violence at the LoC and WB to deflect international attention from the latest wave of Kashmiri uprising, triggered by Indian security forces’ killing of a young Kashmir freedom fighter, Burhan Wani. Modi has also been threatening to divert Pakistan’s share of river waters – in violation of the Indus Water Treaty – to Indian farmers, and maligning Pakistan in international forums as the poster boy of bad behaviour accused of sponsoring terrorism. Furthermore, his proclaimed policy is to isolate Pakistan.
Modi’s anti-Pakistan rhetoric and attempts to portray himself as the man who can deliver on his campaign vow to ‘teach Pakistan a lesson’ resonate with people in northern India. The escalation in violations of the 2003 ceasefire agreement seems to be aimed at winning votes in the upcoming crucial state elections in UP. It is worth noting, however, that Modi pays allegiance to the far-right, anti-Pakistan Hindu nationalist organizations whose agenda includes avenging – real or imagined – wrongs of history. A while ago, his National Security Adviser, Ajit Doval, publicly stated that country’s ‘offensive defence’ strategy, is aimed at destabilizing Pakistan through a covert war. There are reports too of Indian military having updated its ‘Cold Start’ doctrine along with the induction of modern weaponry and improved infrastructure support near Pakistan’s borders.
Given his agenda, Modi may be tempted to try this plan and launch a quick strike on this country. War gaming and real war, nonetheless, are two different things. He can start a war but no one can predict what the response, under a nuclear overhang, would lead to.
The simmering hostilities need to be brought to an end for the sake of this region’s peace and stability as also the wellbeing of the two countries’ peoples. For its part, Pakistan has wisely kept the door to peace negotiations open despite New Delhi’s repeated rebuffs.
As long as Modi is at the helm, Pak-India normalization is very unlikely to be realized. But his desire to teach Pakistan a lesson needs to be reined in. Perhaps, India’s strategic partner, the US, can play a role in this regard. It may be recalled that in an interview he gave an Indian newspaper last November, the then president-elect Donald Trump had said “I would love to see Pakistan and India get along, because that’s a very, very hot tinderbox… that would be very great thing. I hope I can do it.” The least he can do is to make India’s Prime Minister observe restraint and nudge him towards the talks table.