As usual, after the military tension at Line of Control in Jammu and Kashmir earlier this month, India and Pakistan have reengaged in a verbal spat.
The first causalities of the recent tension were senior citizens from Pakistan who wanted to pay a visit to India. Their visa request was put on “hold,” which in pragmatic terms means denied by the government of India.
The second victims were Pakistani hockey players who were in India for games. They were sent back to their country due to ruckus created by right-wing fringe elements during the opening ceremony of a tournament in Mumbai.
The third mistake was committed by Pakistan’s interior minister Rehman Malik who suggested that India should provide better security for its famous film star Shahrukh Khan who was invited to Pakistan by a known terrorist. “We are capable of looking at the security of our own citizens,” said India’s home secretary, Raj Kumar Singh, in response. “Let him worry about his own.”
Khan wrote in Outlook magazine that he had sometimes “become the inadvertent object of political leaders who choose to make me a symbol of all that they think is wrong and unpatriotic about Muslims in India.” The actor also expressed his concern about the rising sectarian sentiments in India where the majority Hindu and minority Muslim populations seem to be growing further and further apart.
Rehman Malik’s statement revealed that the Pakistani establishment, 65 years after the partition of India, still thinks of itself as custodians of India’s Muslims — an affront to the leaders in New Delhi.
The recent tension began with a border incident in early January when Indian and Pakistani army forces opened fire on each other at the Line of Control. The situation seemed on the brink of escalation when Indian media reported that a solider had been decapitated and abused by Pakistani troops. Nationalist and right-wing commentators and politicians in India demanded that Pakistan be taught a “lesson.”
One person who kept her cool was Pakistan’s foreign minister Hina Rabbani Khar. She proposed bilateral talks almost immediately to prevent the situation from escalating further. She also demanded third party mediation to resolve the Kashmir dispute which many, including herself, seem to believe is the “core” of Indo-Pakistani bellicosity.
However, even if the Kashmir dispute were resolved, decades of antagonism and warmongering on both sides are unlikely to simply go away. India and Pakistan have been rivals since partition. In order to reach a long-term peace, Kashmir is but one issue that has to be solved.
Khar’s offer to talk was rejected by India, specifically because of the demand for third party mediation in the Kashmir dispute. The two countries agreed in Simla in 1972 to resolve the issue bilaterally. But Pakistan is now in a much weaker position. It has lost three wars against India and copes with a tribal insurgency in its western frontier region. It insists on the involvement of a third party in peace talks to provide a necessary balance.