Comment on the situation in South Asia

2 March 2019: The recent escalations along the Line of Control separating Indian- and Pakistan- administered Kashmir pose a grave threat to stability in South Asia. The Pugwash Secretary General, Paolo Cotta Ramusino, has issued the following comments on the latest India-Pakistan crisis:

  1. The tensions between the people of the Kashmiri valley and the Indian armed forces have been growing for quite some time. Violent struggles and repression have been for too long a matter of daily life.
  2. The resentment among Kashmiris and their supporters across the Line of Control has been also growing. The anger and the antagonism has increased dramatically in recent times. Militant groups in particular keep carrying on attacks against Indian forces.
  3. The Pakistani Government is not politically supporting, nowadays, any hostile militant action against India, even if a (formally outlawed) militant group (Jaish-e-Mohammed) that is based in Pakistan, acknowledged responsibility of the recent Pulwama attack against the Indian armed forces that caused the death of over 40 military soldiers. In principle there should be no motivation for either Pakistan or India to provoke reactions of the other side that could lead to a direct confrontation between the two South Asian States. Nevertheless, things can evolve in a very negative way and the progression towards disaster can happen.
  4. It is believed by several Indian opinion makers (including some people related to the Indian government) that all the actions portrayed against India by militant groups are directly organized by Pakistan or by some specific Pakistani institutions (such as the I.S.I.). The reality is much more complicated than that: most initiatives by militant groups do not need to have any support and any endorsement by the Government of Pakistan or by its structures. The idea that I.S.I. is centrally controlling everything that is happening in Pakistan is simply not true. Otherwise terrorist attacks in Pakistan or against Pakistani military structures would not happen.
  5. When a crisis, like the one that happened after the Pulwama event, happen, a good way forward would be to create special joint investigative teams that ascertain what happened in reality. In general the only safe way to avoid a direct Indo-Pakistani confrontation would be to have a direct dialogue between the two countries in any situation of crisis.
  6. One can nevertheless understand why the Indian armed forces would attack places where militants who attacked the same Indian armed forces are (thought to be) based. It is important though, in the present situation, that the Indian reaction should be contained and not be influenced by a nationalistic attitude that some are pushing forward also with a look at the forthcoming Indian elections. In general in the present crisis we have seen too much public rejoicing in support of military action on both sides.
  7. The risk of the Indian Pakistani situation is the risk of entering a slippery slope. If the Indian attacks are repeated and/or cause some civilian casualties in Pakistan, if Pakistan retaliates with some serious consequences in India, then you can have a serious armed confrontation between India and Pakistan.
  8. We have already witnessed an escalation of the conflict with the Indian bombing of the Pakistani territory and the downing of two Indian planes. There is an urgent need to stop this escalation and bring back “normality” to Indo-Pakistani relations. Some positive signs in this direction are coming up. In particular, the release of the Indian pilot by the Pakistani authorities is a positive sign.
  9. In general, we have to keep in mind that Pakistan knows that its conventional capabilities are much inferior to the Indian ones and is considering using (tactical) nuclear weapons to repel/dissuade a conventional attack by India. In this, the policy of Pakistan resembles very much the NATO policy during the cold war. At that time the Warsaw pact was conventionally very much superior to NATO and NATO decided to consider the use of (tactical) nuclear weapons in case of a conventional attack by the Warsaw pact. It is also known that every analysis done in the past about this NATO policy showed that nuclear war cannot “be controlled” and that nuclear weapons are not to be used in any circumstance. If a nuclear use is initiated in South Asia it is likely that a full nuclear confrontation will happen.
  10. What is needed now is to tone down the antagonistic rhetoric and the military confrontation between India and Pakistan. It is important that India and Pakistan keep talking in order to bring back the relationship between the two states to a normal level. The international community should be fully aware that a larger scale conflict between India and Pakistan is to be avoided not only to protect Indian and Pakistan, but to avoid dramatic consequences for the entire world. A full nuclear war could cause hundreds million people killed or forced to run away; the consequences of this would be absolutely devastating for the entire planet.
  11. To help preventing similar crisis in the future, it will be also important to promote dialogue and conflict resolution inside the Indian State of Jammu and Kashmir, besides facilitating Indo-Pakistani dialogue for the peaceful management of the antagonism between the two countries. For some time, Pugwash promoted, in various ways, the idea of making the line of control irrelevant by facilitating peaceful political, economic and cultural communications between the various parts of the former princely State of Jammu and Kashmir. This idea should be again put back on the agenda with the aim of bringing back cooperation and mutual understanding in this very much troubled territory.