The recent military exchange between India and Pakistan has raised the stakes in a volatile region. Taking such significant risks - heavy-handed response to terrorist provocation being the latest - has made it clear that national security policies are out of kilter.
Silencing the drumbeats of war merely postpones coming to terms with the prickly tension between the two countries over Kashmir and cross-border terrorism. If there is a re-occurrence of hostilities, which side came out looking better after Pulmara, Balakot and the aerial combat won't matter much.
In other words, the tenuous stalemate doesn't augur well for future peace and security in the region. Before "the madness of militarism" as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. called it takes over again, it is worth examining some ominous aspects of the latest encounter.
Firstly, it is a dangerous trend that two nuclear powers carried out air attacks on the other across both the LOC and national boundaries. It seems that India has finally decided to call Pakistan's nuclear 'bluff', thus abandoning the policy of restraint. Pakistan may raise its current 'measured' strategy in response. Nuclear-armed neighbours pitched in a high-risk game of testing new military hardware can lead to disastrous consequences.
Secondly, the recent exchange revealed a gap in military capabilities which could exacerbate the already costly arms race in the sub-continent; possibly introducing new weapons of mass destruction into the deadly equation. Pakistan in a difficult bind, as it is hard to compete in an arms race, while on the brink of a financial meltdown. Moreover, South Asia's desperate poor will suffer most from the diversion of billions of dollars from fighting poverty, which may potentially fuel more extremism.
India may have realized that Pakistan isn't an easy military pushover. The post-1971 military in Pakistan is a formidable force. Re-built from defeat, through external assistance and precious internal resources, it is the front and centre of the state. By exercising control over the state's extensive nuclear capability, the military feels near invincible, allowing it to dictate terms on the state's security and foreign policies.
Silencing the drumbeats of war merely postpones coming to terms with the prickly tension between the two countries over Kashmir and cross-border terrorism. If there is a re-occurrence of hostilities, which side came out looking better after Pulmara, Balakot and the aerial combat won't matter much
Finally, the recent events set an unfortunate precedent by introducing force over diplomacy to resolve political issues as unambiguous policy. Notwithstanding upcoming elections, it is a bit surprising why India chooses the military option at this juncture. Pakistan has yet another opportunity to improve its international image by cleaning up its act. It has ordered a crackdown on any terrorist leaders and groups possibly operating from its soil.
Prime Minister Modi's action aimed at Pakistan has probably added to his popularity in India. Playing hardball with Pakistan normally helps in Indian politics. Retaining power is understandably more significant for Modi than to cater to Pakistan's desire for peace. On the other hand, Pakistan's doesn't have the leverage to bring India to the negotiating table.
To his credit, Khan came out looking statesmanlike during the tumultuous last few weeks of the Indo-Pakistan face off. Offering peace over belligerence, he confirmed the early release of the India pilot captured after the aerial combat between the countries.
It is paradoxical that the confrontation between India and Pakistan persists despite the high risks involved. A potential nuclear Armageddon serves as a sober reality check. Despite the shared animosity, the two countries, unable to change geography, are destined to live together. They can't avoid negotiation, interaction, and engagement.
Perhaps a more collaborative approach, missing thus far, can address the sequence of provocation and reaction. Moreover, a common front against terrorism serves India and Pakistan. Terrorism has caused bloodshed and tears in both countries.
However, any problem-solving dialogue requires a positive-sum approach. The two countries ought to hear out each other's concerns and demands. The peace process has to take into account the existing ground realities, strengths and weaknesses and limits of flexibility. They are essential prerequisites to effective negotiation and relationship building.
Although immediate political considerations in India deter a lowering of tensions right away, India and Pakistan have a stake in maintaining stability and security in South Asia. They must choose between chest-thumping and irrationality or peace and security. The real choice is between being sensible and being foolish. For too long now, Delhi and Islamabad have chosen foolishly. The availability of lethal weapons of mass destruction suggests that we can't allow this attitude to prevail much longer.