Hardliners Who Pushed For Conflict Must Mend Their Ways As India And Pakistan Talk Peace
After living under a constant life-endangering threat for nearly five years, the people inhabiting along Pak-India border areas took a sigh of relief when the two countries announced their mutual decision to go back to their old ceasefire agreement of 2003 and recommit to it at the Line of Control. The border skirmishes that have been going on since 16 October 2016 came to halt from midnight of 24/25 February 2021 and the guns on both sides of the border became silent allowing the people on both sides of the border to enjoy the restoration of peace.
On 23 February 2021, COAS General Qamar Javed Bajwa had said “Pakistan was a peace-loving country that rendered great sacrifices for regional and global peace. It is time to extend hand of peace in all directions.” Talking on the conflict between Pakistan and India, the famous Wing Commander of Indian Air Force, Abhinandan Varthaman, made a sensible remark that said, “I see no reason for us to continue with any kind of hostilities.” Pakistani press gave special prominence to this statement.
These goodwill gestures towards peace are, of course, healthy signs for both countries and their peoples. Yet, one question remains unanswered, “What’s it that these two countries achieved out of this border conflict that continued for so long?” The people who lost their dear ones in this inconclusive conflict also need to know the cause their relatives and friends had sacrificed their lives for. Who would answer these questions – the government, the army, or the war mongering media of both countries?
Long before the initiation of Indo-Pak conflict, a senior journalist, Harris Khaliq, had written in Dawn, “What we see in the wake of the Pathankot airbase terror attack in India earlier this week is a news media war waged against each other by a section of private media in the two countries.”
While the Indian press was using joint Indian intelligence-media report to blame ISI and Pakistan Army behind the Pathankot airbase attack, an alliance of Kashmiri Mujahideen groups, United Jihad Council (UJC) rejected these reports and claimed that the attackers were a squad of mujahideen drawn from different member outfits in their alliance operating in IOK. Jaish-i-Mohammad and Lashkar-e-Taiba enjoy observer status in UJC. According to reports, UJC operates out of Pakistani-administered Kashmir and is headed by Syed Salahuddin, who is also head of the Hizbul Mujahideen as well.
Soon after Pathankot attack, former PM Nawaz Sharif had made contact with Indian PM, Narendra Modi to discuss the attack with him. Modi’s office also verified of having received such call from Nawaz Sharif. The Foreign Office also confirmed that the Pakistan’s government was in touch with the Indian government to address the problem.
There were diagonally opposite views and opinions making headlines in the press escalating the tension between the two countries. A euphoria of patriotism mixed with an equally inflexible feelings of hatred toward enemy was gaining ground in both countries. It wasn’t the media alone that was taking lead in this race, other sections of the society were equally engaged in trying to surpass each other to prove their loyalty to the Kashmir cause by using all kinds of methods to influence the leadership of the country for taking an aggressive stance against the enemy instead of pursuing a peaceful resolution of the crisis. From religious leaders to politicians, civil to military officials, and social activists to opinion makers, all were joining this bandwagon.
A month after the Pathankot attack, Pakistan observed ‘Kashmir Day’ when the hardliner Jihadists and religious parties led by Hafiz Saeed of Jamat-ud-Dawa organised a ‘Solidarity with Kashmir’ conference in Islamabad. Most of the speakers praised the former army chief General Raheel Sharif and criticised the then Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif for developing personal friendship with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. They even demanded the government to wage a Jihad against India. Everything related to India became intolerable in the country and so was the case in India too for anything that had a slightest link with Pakistan.
While the hatred against the neighboring enemy was on the rise in both sides of the border, a Kashmiri freedom fighter and commander of Hizbul Mujahideen, Burhan Muzaffar Wani, was killed by the Indian security forces on 6 July 2016. His killing set off a wave of protests in the Indian held Kashmir that was dealt with pellet guns causing serious injuries to the protestors. Public outrage against these state atrocities became more prominent in the valley and it also triggered countrywide protests in Pakistan led by different religious and political parties.
The ever-worsening political situation in IOK sent alarming signals to the Indian society as a whole resulting in a serious polarization of the country on Hindu-Muslim divide. Amnesty International in India organized a program in Bengaluru to discuss Kashmir issue on 13 August 2016. The young members of a right-wing student organization, Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) took active participation in this program. As the program kicked off and the Amnesty moderator mentioned a number for the Kashmiri pandits who had been displaced in the valley the representatives of ABVP began shouting angrily asking the moderator to correct the number to four or seven lakhs. When a representative of Kashmiri Pandit community in Bengaluru was asked to speak about the human rights violations faced by members of the community, some Kashmiri boys shouted, the men sitting in the front stood up, they all shouted at each other at the top of their voice and a commotion was created in the hall. After the calm was restored, some student members of ABVP went outside and began raising some slogans while the Kashmiri youth in the hall were up shouting some slogans for ‘Azadi”.
While the Indian society was being polarised on religious and anti-Pakistani feelings, the anti-India feelings continued intensifying in Pakistan after every act of brutalities committed by the Indian security forces in IOK. The government of Pakistan was so moved by the worsening situation of the people in IOK that the Pemra Chairman, Absar Alam, felt it necessary to remind electronic media that they have to give enough coverage of Kashmiri situation on their channels. He noted that Indian forces were using even deadly pellet guns in the Occupied Kashmir but some anchorpersons, who do programs on minor issues, had not done any talk show to condemn the Kashmiris’ genocide at the hands of Indian troops in the occupied valley.
Well-known human rights activist, Asma Jahangir, also followed suite and appealed to the liberal circles of Pakistan to practically support the Kashmiris for their right to self-determination and ensure liberation of the occupied territory through a peaceful struggle.
When the slogans like liberation, freedom, azadi, and jihad were making their rounds in IOK and Pakistan, a terrorist attack on Indian army base in Uri took place on 18 September 2016. The Indian government went berserk and directly accused Pakistan of its involvement in this deadly attack. Hostilities between the two nuclear states went up to the highest level sending an alarm to the world for a serious threat it posed to the world peace.
Worries within the corridors of power in Pakistan also became eminent when a report in the press appeared on 6 October 2016 claiming that the civilian government had suggested the military to act against militants or face international isolation. Making public the contents of an internal meeting caused a serious controversy between the civilian government and the army that became popularly known as “Dawn leaks”.
On 17 October 2016, India reported a ceasefire violation by Pakistan that left a soldier killed in Balakot sector in Poonch district. No Pakistani press carried this report. Three days later, a villager was killed and five were injured due to ‘unprovoked’ firing by Indian army across LoC on 20 October 2016. The Indian press also observed silence on this incident. One 21 October 2016, the chairman of United Jihad Council (UJC), Syed Salahuddin, sought Pakistan’s “military support” for Kashmiri freedom fighters. “The festering (Kashmir) issue is not going to resolve through talks or resolutions… Pakistan should militarily support Kashmiris by providing resources to the mujahideen,” he said, while addressing a press conference in Muzaffarabad, Azad Kashmir.
Of course, Pakistan didn’t pay any heed to this UJC request, but the border conflicts that had started on 16 October 2016 couldn’t be discontinued till 25 February 2021 — a situation that indirectly satisfied the desires of the hardliners in both countries. What profit Pakistan gained from this conflict is unknown but some losses are visible. 371 persons from Pakistan lost their lives while 661 were injured. The freedom of Kashmiri Muslims from Indian occupation still remains a far cry while the special privilege they had under Article 370 has been lost. The economic losses Pakistan suffered from this conflict are unknown as well but a recent report claimed a staggering loss of $38 billion to Pakistan’s economy due to its inclusion into the grey list of the Financial Action Task Force’s (FATF). If an inclusion in grey list could cost $38b within two years’ time, think of the cost the country might have endured from this border conflict that continued for about five years.
Like Kargil war, this was another Indo-Pak conflict that did not result in any achievement for either side. Would the people who pursued jingoistic policy back in 2016 now take a look at their past behavior and avoid repeating it in the future?