Can India and Pakistan contain escalation after recent developments?

By Lt. Gen. (R) Masood Aslam

A series of recent “escalation moves” by the Indian government, under PM Modi, indicates that the decision making process in New Delhi lacks a rational approach. Mutual distrust and rise of the religious right (especially the RSS’ influence in domestic politics) in India has brought us to a situation where the Indian leadership is unwilling to see the change in mindset and a sincere desire of Pakistan’s civil and military leadership to live in peace with all its neighbors.

Since coming to power, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran has been offering an olive branch to his counterpart in India. Even in his maiden speech after winning the elections, the PM maintained that he would strive to improve relations with all the neighboring countries. However, it seems that the Indian PM is more interested in taking the war path for domestic political gains and consumption.

There is high probability of further escalation, especially considering the events of yesterday where two Indian Air Force (IAF) fighter jets (one confirmed) were shot down in the Pakistani territory. The whole cycle started due to Modi’s desire to rile up his angry “Hindutva” base before the spring General Elections. Many Pakistan defense experts had predicted much before the Pulwama Attack that Modi could stir up war hysteria to gain political mileage.

This was exactly why he had spurned Imran Khan’s offer for peace talks after the latter had assumed power last year, because Modi needed a surge of nationalism to stay in power. The recent losses for the ruling BJP in a couple of states, which had historically been BJP strongholds, only reaffirmed this need to rile up nationalist sentiments. No doubt, the Pulwama incident was tragic and as our PM also acknowledged that “we feel the anguish and deep hurt all across India”.

The knee jerk accusations and jingoistic media campaign created a war hysteria in India. All this was no help in soothing or calming down emotions in India. Though there has been a louder criticism of Modi’s policies by a united stand of 21 opposition parties, it is still difficult to believe that the Indian leadership will show strategic vision and exercise restraint. Moreover, with growing influence of the ultra-right groups in India, it is also becoming difficult for saner voices in the country to come forward.

In conclusion, we might, unfortunately, see further chest thumping and “sneak attacks” by Modi, unless USA and other international mediators step up and stop a nuclear conflagration between two major nuclear powers.

Muhammad Masood Aslam is a retired general of the Pakistani army, who has served as Pakistan’s Ambassador to Mexico as well.

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