India and Pakistan have once again indulged in a war of words after months of relative peace. Who benefits from the continued hostility between the nuclear rivals? DW examines the historic conflict and its new dimension.
In his recent trip to Bangladesh, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi declared that his country played an important role in the liberation of Bangladesh from Pakistani in 1971. The eastern wing of Pakistan – now Bangladesh – seceded from the former West Pakistan after a protracted struggle for the economic and political rights of the Bengalis that were severely curtailed by the rulers in Islamabad.
Pakistan, however, claims it was India that orchestrated and nurtured a separatist movement in Dhaka. Experts say that Modi’s comments in Bangladesh have strengthened the Pakistani narrative about the conflict and have done a big injustice to the struggle and sacrifices of the Bengalis.
Sartaj Aziz, an adviser to Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on foreign affairs, told the country’s Senate on Wednesday that Modi’s remarks were an acknowledgement of India’s involvement in “breaking up” Pakistan. New Delhi continues to destabilize the Islamic republic by supporting separatists in the western Balochistan province, other ministers said.
“It was totally uncalled for. He (Modi) has done no favor to Dhaka by making those comments. He probably only meant that India provided moral and political support to the Bangladesh cause, but it will only help the hawkish elements in Islamabad,” Idrees Ahmed, a political activist in Lahore, told DW.
The Bangladeshi government, however, does not feel the same. “The Indian PM was candid to say that India supported the 1971 war of liberation. But this is not tantamount to interference in Pakistan, as New Delhi, as a friendly neighbor, stood by Bangladesh whose independence was proclaimed on March 26, 1971. Therefore, it was support from one country to the other against its fight with a third country (Pakistan),” Bangladesh Information Minister Hasanal Haq Inu told an Indian newspaper on Thursday.
To make matters worse, India’s Deputy Minister for Information and Broadcasting, Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore, said Wednesday that India “will carry out surgical strikes at the place and time of our own choosing,” referring to the Indian army’s cross-border attack inside Myanmar against insurgents.
“Western disturbances will also be equally dealt with,” the minister said during a press briefing when asked if India could also carry out strikes on the Pakistani border, according to a report published by a local news agency.
Pakistan immediately reacted to Rathore’s statement. “Our armed forces are fully capable of responding to any foreign aggression and Indian leaders should stop daydreaming,” said Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan on Thursday, adding that India should not mistake Pakistan for Myanmar.
The chief of Pakistan’s army, Raheel Sharif, also warned India against “casting an evil eye on Pakistan.”
Between hope and despair
Ahmed believes that war rhetoric would only benefit the two countries’ armies, defense industries, ultra-nationalists, and religious extremists.
“Who are the Indian politicians doing a favor to? Certainly not to PM Sharif’s civilian government. They are giving a reason to Pakistan’s army generals and their stooges – the Islamists – to create an atmosphere of hatred and jingoism in the country,” he said.
Narendra Modi’s election to Indian premier in May 2014 led some to expect a lasting diplomatic solution with Pakistan. Modi made the first move, as he invited Sharif to attend his oath-taking ceremony in New Delhi. Sharif opted to reciprocate Modi’s friendly gesture and went to the Indian capital on May 26 with a “message of peace.” Experts said it was an unprecedented step by a Pakistani leader to engage on such a high-level with a Hindu nationalist like Modi, who was allegedly involved in a Muslim massacre in Gujarat in 2002 as the state’s head.
“There were high hopes for the improvement of bilateral relations between India and Pakistan with the fresh start of a new government. Before Prime Minister Modi came to power, the relations between the two neighbors were at an all-time low as all bilateral processes had been interrupted,” Sarah Hees, Resident Representative of the German foundation Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung in India, told DW.
But in less than two months after the historic meeting of prime ministers Sharif and Modi in New Delhi, the armies of the two nuclear-armed South Asian nations began to trade gunfire along the Kashmir border. Things were back to square one in a very short time.
“There has never been a real peace process between India and Pakistan. It is only a ‘cooling down’ of emotions and tensions for a brief period of time. This has been happening since 1947,” Farooq Sulehria, a London-based journalist and researcher, told DW.
Having separated after independence from British rule in 1947, the two countries had fought three full-scale wars over the span of six decades and been entangled in multiple territorial disputes, notably that of Kashmir.
Pakistan’s ‘dubious’ commitment against terrorism
India, however, has some genuine concerns about Pakistan-based terrorists groups that it believes are creating unrest on its soil. The memory of Mumbai attacks is still fresh in the minds of many Indians.
In 2008, Indo-Pakistani relations broke down completely after ten Pakistan-based gunmen carried out coordinated terror attacks in various parts of India’s financial capital Mumbai, killing 166 people. New Delhi accuses Pakistan’s spy agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), and the banned Lashkar-e-Taiba militant group of orchestrating the attacks – a charge Islamabad denies.
Despite Pakistan’s claims that it is fighting against Islamist militants, countries like the US, Afghanistan and India are not convinced.
“India is still not persuaded that Pakistan was embarking on a comprehensive combat against terrorism,” India’s former ambassador to Islamabad and political commentator G. Parthasarathy told DW.
The Indian government still believes that Pakistan is targeting only those terrorists who are acting against its own state machinery, Parthasarathy added, referring to the masterminds and planners of the Mumbai attack. Parthasarathy says it is impossible for India to take Pakistan’s claims of establishing peace with India seriously as long as the perpetrators of the attacks are still at large.
South Asia needs peace
Indo-Pakistani ties have never been cordial, but the recent escalation of tensions have upset the neighboring countries’ peace activists, who say that the blame game from both sides would be harmful for the masses who need peace and development more than anything else.
“If conflict persists, fundamentalist groups in India and Pakistan will benefit. The right-wing groups in both countries want war and animosity,” Baseer Naveed, senior researcher at the Asian Human Rights Commission in Hong Kong, told DW.