Pakistan and India should work on settling their differences behind closed doors
Boasting publically about ‘surgical strikes’ only increases the risk of war and is a dangerous departure from past practices
Kashmir is the main cause of almost 70 years of conflict between India and Pakistan. The nuclear-armed South Asian neighbours have fought two of their three wars over the Himalayan region that they partly rule, although each claim in full. Almost 50,000 people have been killed and the number grows by the week, making clear that peace lies in a political, not military, solution. The Indian government’s recent decision to make a media spectacle of a covert strike by its army against Pakistani militants is a dangerous precedent.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government had been under social media pressure to respond to the deaths of 19 soldiers in an attack on September 18 by four militants believed to have come from the Pakistani side of the line of control, the de facto border in Kashmir between the countries. In the past, the response had been secret operations intentionally kept out of the media to maintain a tactical advantage and prevent Pakistan from making political gain. That strategy has largely been effective, diminishing the threat and ensuring diplomatic channels are unaffected. But on September 30, the approach was ignored in favour of press conferences announcing what was said to have been a successful operation on the Pakistan side to thwart a planned assault by terrorists.
The claim that 38 extremists had been killed and seven terror launch pads destroyed won high public praise. But the announcement was made a day after Pakistan’s defence minister threatened the use of tactical nuclear weapons to defend his country against attacks from India. Although Islamabad denied that the Indian strike took place, its government and army were put in a difficult position; to not act would be seen by Pakistanis as a sign of weakness, but to do so risked war. Heightening the tensions, an Indian border guard was killed days later when at least six suspected jihadists stormed an army camp.
Public pressure cannot be allowed to drive the Kashmir issue. The solution lies in negotiations, preferably using closed-door diplomacy. To do otherwise risks another war.