IT is hard to disagree with UN Secretary General António Guterres’s assertion that Pakistan and India must discuss the Kashmir issue and that any military confrontation between the two South Asian states will result in “a disaster of unmitigated proportions”.
Replying to a question during a press conference in New York, the UN chief added that “our good offices are always available” in case the parties wanted to avail the option to discuss the problem. However, the issue here is that Mr Guterres’s offer can only bring results when both parties are interested in a negotiated settlement to the dispute. When one side — India — keeps harping on the same tune, insisting Kashmir is an ‘internal’ matter, there is little that third parties can do.
Without doubt the lack of progress on the Kashmir dispute has poisoned the atmosphere in South Asia since independence. Tensions in the disputed region have resulted in several wars and numerous skirmishes. Pakistan, for its part, has always offered to negotiate a solution that is acceptable to the Kashmiris, but has mostly been rebuffed. The present federal government has also offered to take steps towards peace if India reciprocates, while Islamabad has tried to improve relations through people-to-people contacts.
The opening of the Kartarpur Corridor is a case in point. However, the Indian response, particularly under the BJP’s watch, to these overtures has been less than enthusiastic. There have been consistent attacks along the LoC, leading to a high number of civilian casualties, while the Indian misadventure of 2019 in which New Delhi’s jets (one of which was shot down) violated Pakistani airspace, is a prime example of the brinkmanship this country’s eastern neighbour has indulged in ever since the BJP took the reins of power. And of course, matters in India-held Kashmir have been further complicated after India annulled the occupied region’s special constitutional status in August 2019, in effect to crush the Kashmiris’ aspirations for freedom and dignity. In such a situation, India has clearly shown that it is not ready for peace.
However, Pakistan should continue its efforts to resolve the issue peacefully because a military confrontation in this region would be devastating, as the UN chief has observed. But for peace to succeed, the UN as well as global powers must realise that India needs to change its belligerent posture.
It is not only Pakistan that has been having trouble along its border with India; the recent clashes on the India-Chinese frontier show that New Delhi is in an aggressive mood and keeps provoking its neighbours. There is still a chance to bring peace to South Asia if India responds positively to Pakistan’s desire for dialogue. However, if the politicians and generals in India keep making warlike noises and threatening this country, they should understand that Pakistan can and will defend itself.
Published in Dawn, February 1st, 2021