On 19th February 2019, a convoy of trucks carrying Indian security personnel of the Central Reserve Police Force was attacked by a vehicle-borne suicide bomber. The attacker an indigenous Kashmiri youth in his early twenties had suffered countless humiliations at the hands of Indian Armed forces stationed in Kashmir and chose to blow himself up as a last desperate act of defiance.
The attack killed 40 personnel while maiming many more and put into motion a daisy chain of events. On the 27th of February, in a futile show of misdirected bravado Indian MiG fighter jets strayed into Pakistani Airspace as far as the northeastern town of Balakot of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, to strike down alleged terror camps that according to various Indian high ups served as launch pads in use of miscreants for conducting guerilla attacks in Indian Occupied Kashmir. Though the jets just bombed a bunch of trees and jettisoned their remaining payloads inside Pakistani territory as they flew away, tail between the legs, to their side of the line of control, the gambit proved enough to ruffle Pakistan’s feathers.
The fact that Indian jets managed to get this far into Pakistani territory raised questions as to the ability of Pakistan’s Army to defend the country’s territorial sovereignty. As public opinion grew loud and shrill, the need for a retaliatory attack became a pressing necessity. The Pakistani military was pushed into a corner, by the opinion of its own public, from which there was only one way out: a retaliatory attack, strong enough to quench the public’s thirst for revenge, and small enough to not push India over the brink of all-out war.
Thus in an apt act of reciprocity, on 28th Feb, Pakistani Airforce struck inside the Indian side of the Line of Control. A patch of barren ground was bombed, and that was that. Pakistani Military had no other plans for the day, but an Indian fighter pilot with a handlebar mustache, hailing from the port city of Chennai, had some.
The aforementioned pilot’s Soviet-made MiG wandered into Pakistani Airspace. No matter what his intentions were, or what his mission was, his journey into Pakistani airspace was cut short by an air-to-air missile fired from an American-made, Pakistani F-16. The pilot, Abhinandan Varthaman, ejected his plane, pulled his parachute cord, but due to sheer bad luck or happenstance, fell down on the Pakistani side of the control line, well behind the enemy lines. An exciting set of events followed. Pursued by a party of enraged locals, Abhinandan fired his pistol twice in the air, in the last gasp effort to ward off the locals. But luck was not on his side that day. The locals, instead of running away, doubled down. Abhinandan was eventually caught by his animated pursuit party and was beaten black and blue till a patrol platoon of the Pakistani Army rescued him from what looked like a certain lynching. From there the pilot who had come on an uninvited excursion was taken to a nearby military base and given a taste of Pakistani hospitality. The following day, in an act of extraordinary statesmanship, Pakistan’s Prime Minister, Imran Khan, proclaimed before the Pakistani Parliament that the captured pilot would be released, in order to make way for peace and harmony.
However, no love was lost between the two nuclear-armed nations, and fears of an all-out war lingered on.
Then, over the course of 2019’s summer, India held its Parliamentary Elections, and Modi’s BJP hurtled towards victory riding a combined wave of jingoism, bigotry, and xenophobia. As it’s the first act, Modi scraped article 370 of the Indian constitution resulting in the revocation of Kashmir’s special constitutional status. This act, brazen as it was, further exacerbated the status-quo. In addition, in September 2019, word spread that India wanted to do away with its ‘No First Use’ policy regards to Nuclear weapons. It is imperative to mention here that on the fateful day when Pak Airforce shot down Abhinandan’s Soviet-made MiG, it also shot down another Indian aircraft whose wreckage fell in Indian-occupied Jammu and Kashmir.
The situation has alternated between peaceful and precarious. And though Pakistan’s response has been measured throughout, with intermittent and fatal flare-ups on the line of control, the idea of war never seems far-fetched.
Kashmir has been a bone of contention between two hostile neighbors for 7 decades running, and Pakistan and India have a history of scuffling, skirmishing and fighting wars over it. But this time, a repeat of past conflicts would be different. As Graham Allison wrote, in his book, Destined For War, ‘there is nothing new under the sun except Nuclear weapons’. And those seem to have changed the equation. If any of the neighbors unilaterally decide, anytime soon, to go to war over Kashmir, again, it wouldn’t be void of the threat of assured mutual annihilation. Furthermore, there are no mutual treaties or pacts to prevent the use of nuclear weaponry and no diplomatic backstops to which both nations can revert in case of a crisis. All bets are off. The nuclear equation between two bellicose and belligerent neighbors is at a highly unstable equilibrium. It needs a slight prod to explode out of proportion and usher in a mushroom cloud that would cover three-quarters of the Indo-Pak subcontinent. The poke and prod can be engendered by a melange of elements. To discuss a couple of scenarios: a bomb can go off in some Cant in Kashmir and irrespective of the identity of perpetrators, — as the ‘Sangh Parivar’ hardly cares about facts anymore — the fallout could push India’s pugnacious ‘Modi Sarkar’ towards war; or, a military act of brinksmanship from either side on the Line of Control can result in a steady climb up the escalation ladder that could eventually spiral into mutual destruction.
Both sides need to, simultaneously, engage diplomatically and introspect. But as Modi’s administration has, by and large, proved impervious to reason and unable to introspect, the onus is on Pakistan to act the mature part. It is laudable that there have been no instances of hostile intent manifested by Pakistan’s state. Now it’s hot-headed citizenry needs to follow suit and play it cool. People could do worse than make do with patriotic songs. It’d be better in the scheme of peace to hum along with song lyrics than raise slogans for kinetic military action. Moreover, it’s in the best interests of everyone that the public debate about Kashmir stays inside the boundaries of peace-driven rationality. Because — the statement might reek of cold irony, but — the prospects of a war, a nuclear one for that matter, between India and Pakistan over Kasmir are quite bright. The peace in Indo-Pak subcontinent is, for now, undergirded by luck, and God forbid if this luck runs out one day.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Dunya News’ editorial stance.