The latest exchange between India and Pakistan in their ongoing war of words, must qualify as a war scare. That it has been allowed to occur is an indication of what the future holds for the world community if it allows India, as it so far has, to act without restraint. However, India should see the limits of how far it can be expected to get away with ridiculous claims, like Pakistan being behind the attack on the Uri brigade headquarters, which was the alleged casus belli. The ridiculousness of the claim, which required a belief in the dunderheadedness of the Pakistani agencies allegedly executing the attack, rested on the record of nations accepting, virtually without blinking, previous Indian lies designed to enable it to oil out of its solemn commitments to the United Nations to allow the Kashmiri people their right of self-determination.
There were three new factors in this situation. First, the attack itself took place at a time when the whole Valley was experiencing a new wave of agitation, which broke out after the killing of charismatic militant commander Burhan Muzaffar Wani. The Indian occupation forces crackdown had included killing scores, and blinding scores more, apart from injuring hundreds and arresting thousands. Such a heavy-handed response to a peaceful protest movement looks bad. To add to the mess, it should be remembered that Burhan Muzaffar Wani was a militant, whose appeal rested on the fact that he had moved forward from the essential political, dialogue-oriented, process espoused by the All-Parties Hurriyet Conference headed by Syed Ali Geelani, for example. Therefore, the response to his extra-judicial killing was bound to be militant, and an attack on a brigade headquarters would fit the profile.
Then there was the fact of Pakistani Prime Minister Mian Nawaz Sharif about to address the United Nations General Assembly. The speech was expected to include the Nawaz governments response to the crisis, and it did, along with a blistering condemnation of Indian methods of repression.
The problem India faces is that the façade it has developed indicating that Kashmir is just another state of the Indian Union, is breaking down so palpably that the international media is being forced to sit up and take notice. It may have helped at home to have the BJP in office, with a more muscular view of Hinduism than the other parties, but it has not helped abroad, particularly not in Pakistan. However, the BJP being in office has meant two things. First, there has been a much more vigorous suppression of legitimate protests than under the previous Congress-led government, itself no slouch at dealing repressively with indigenous freedom movements. Second, there is a greater international readiness to see India as the aggressor in any conflict. The BJP is seen as the proverbial bull in the china shop, having first broken the situation of nuclear deniability by the 1998 tests, and now of promoting a vicious Hindutva that is willing to set off a nuclear war.
That media attention, so unwelcome to India, is making it increasingly difficult for India to isolate Pakistan internationally, as it must if it is to achieve its war aim of ending Pakistani support for Kashmiri self-determmination. Here, India needs to recognize how close to Pakistani hearts is that goal, that two wars, the latter ending in the secession of East Pakistan, has failed to make Pakistanis give it up. Second, that though Kashmir was occupied by India in 1947, the people still seek the right of self-determination: Indian occupation has not changed the facts on ground.
Deeper in the background is the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, and Indias swing towards the USA. Both Pakistan and India are trying to adjust to a changing world, one in which the great reality is not the US-Soviet rivalry, but the Sino-US one. And where India was aligned to the USSR in the first, it has swung to the USA in the second. Pakistan increases its swing to China, which sees its goodwill as neutralizing its pro-US position, bolstering it against India and helping it against Uighur nationalists (by denying them a safe haven if it was given under US influence, it would do much harm to China). India counteracts by working harder on Balochistan, giving Pakistan even more of an incentive to support the Kashmir cause.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi responded to the Uri attack in a by-election speech in Kerala, calling for both countries to fight a war on poverty and ignorance. That reflects two things: both governments can ill afford the arms race that their rivalry implies. Also, both social services and defence have an insatiable appetite for money, and spending on one means less for the other. Second, this reflects the problem that Atal Behari Vajpayee, head of the previous BJP government and Foreign Minister in Indias first non-Congress government after Partition, apparently realized when he mused privately about what to do about the North (Kashmir is in Indias north-west; its border issue with China in its north-east), for he couldnt solve Indias basic problems of poverty and under-development without settling it. Modi has been elected as an economic wizard, and is expected to take India forward. At the same time, the BJP itself has become more militant, and wants Modi to follow a more aggressive policy. It is also worth noting that this is also an aspect of governance that Mian Nawaz has tried to tie himself, that of economic prosperity. Even as the war drums beat, the Nawaz government continues to tout its economic successes. One consequence has been added responsibility. War means sacrificing economic prosperity. Indeed, it can be argued that the growth of the Ayub years was stunted by the 1965 War, and though it represented a successful defence (though not achieving the aims of Operation Gibraltar), Ayubs downfall may well be traced to that war.
India has raised another spectre this time, that of a water war. That India has considered the water weapon is an indication of its desperation to make a response. Pakistan has responded by saying that it will view an abrogation of the Indus Waters Treaty as an act of war. The drying of Pakistan would obviously have vast and horrendous economic consequences, and fighting a war might be seen as no loss. Indias trying to make the SAARC Islamabad summit a failure by not only keeping away itself, but also making others stay away, is again an indication of the economic consequences, for SAARC is supposed to be an economic grouping, and this meeting was key in view of the Brexit, which has hit the European Union, the model for SAARC.
True, the peace seems to have been kept, because the world cannot afford an Indo-Pak war. But the question must be asked if the world can afford to keep on lurching like this, from one crisis to another. And what happens if one leadership, most probably the Indian, refuses to listen?