Superfluously, the latest round of skirmishes along the Line of Control between Indian and Pakistani troops appears to be just another incident of cross border firing. But if viewed with some degree of objectivity, one could make the reasonable conclusion that it might lead to disaster. Owing to the increasing frequency of firing incidents along the Line of Control and working boundary, the situation is becoming tense by the day. Consequently, if this pattern of cross border clashes continues, the situation could potentially trigger a conflict, and the escalation could have serious repercussions for both India and Pakistan.
The Indian media is blaming Pakistan for initiating the clashes, but these claims appear ridiculous. Pakistani forces are currently engaged in an ongoing major military operation in the tribal areas with apparently no end in sight. The continuing political stalemate between the government and protestors led by Imran Khan and Tahir ul Qadri has brought the government to its weakest point since the 2013 elections. And finally, the dwindling economy remains one of the most formidable challenges for the government amidst an ongoing energy crisis and price hike situation in the country.
Thus, having committed the bulk of its forces against the western front, it would be a strategic and economic nightmare for Pakistan to redeploy its military forces against the emerging threat from the eastern border. Not only would such a deployment prove to be a massive drain for the economy already in doldrums, but it would conceivably put the ongoing military operation in the tribal areas in complete jeopardy. A two front war scenario has always haunted the policy-makers in Islamabad and Rawalpindi. The Indian mediaís claims of Pakistan initiating the conflict are thus simply untenable.
It remains entirely inconceivable that Indian forces are escalating the situation without the consent of the political leadership. There could be multiple reasons for this deliberately planned escalation, like coercing Pakistan to squeeze some concessions over disputes like Siachin and Kashmir, or planning to test the efficacy of the militaryís nascent proactive cold start strategy, or maybe using it as a pretext to introduce an explicit preemptive clause in the existing nuclear doctrine. It is also possible that the Indian conservative government has decided that it is now time to demonstrate and project power in the region to establish hegemony in South Asia. But the Indian government is disregarding one fundamental fact: there arenít going to be any winners in a nuclear war. Both Pakistan and India can destroy each other, but none can claim a decisive victory over the other.
Mr. Modi is apparently living up to his promise of taking a tough stand against Pakistan. Not only has the Indian government pulled out of the secretary level talks recently, besides ruling out the possibility of third party mediation on Kashmir, but has also reiterated that there will be no dialogue until cross border firing continues. This policy illustrates that the incumbent Prime Minister, on one hand, is closing the opportunities of resolving lingering disputes through meaningful dialogue, but is also exerting pressure on Pakistan through military coercion and diplomatic rhetoric. Such imprudent policies would obviously strengthen the perspective in Pakistan about the futility of the dialogue process with India, which is going to compound the problems in the region.
Mr. Narendra Modi might not have found enough time to read about the dangers posed by nuclear weapons- which can starve to death one third of humanity in case of a nuclear war in South Asia. Modiís hatred for Muslims in general and Pakistan in particular, is an open secret. His desire to coerce Pakistan into submission might sell good in his political constituency, but is actually far from reality. As highlighted by Colin Gray, ďA nuclear state is a state which no one wants to make desperate.Ē No rational actor would pursue that kind of approach.
The only way to achieve peace in South Asia is through meaningful dialogue with definitive timelines. The mantra of talks is now over six decades old, with no tangible outcomes. Pakistan has already extended a hand for the initiation of dialogue to which Mr. Modi should respond positively. But even if he shreds this opportunity away, there is still no way to claim a conclusive victory over Pakistan. India lost that edge in May 1998, after the nuclearization of the region. Nuclear weapons are a fait accompli in South Asia and India will have to live with it.
The writer holds an M Phil degree in Strategic & Nuclear Studies from NDU Islamabad and is co-author of the book Iran and the Bomb: Nuclear Club Busted.