The two neighbors are engaged in an increasingly hostile war of words related to both historical and modern day events.
A recent period of relative peace has been brought to an end due to a number of factors. Latest developments include the news that India killed scores of Naga insurgents inside Myanmar this week, and later made a veiled threat to Pakistani sovereignty. An Indian official claimed that its forces would not hesitate to enter foreign territory to eliminate terrorists, a pronouncement which was seen as a threat to Pakistan and provoked a strong response from politicians in Islamabad.
Aggressive rhetoric from both sides
In the aftermath of the strike in Myanmar, Indian Minister of State for Information Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore said that India would not hesitate to strike against any country or group which harbored “terror intent.”
Pakistan’s Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar said on Wednesday that India should be aware that Pakistan is not Myanmar. “Pakistan Army is fully capable of responding to any adventurism,” said Nisar.
For their part, a group of top military commanders warned India not to consider any “misadventure” against Pakistan.
Modi speech opens old wounds
An historic issue also raised its ugly head again this week. Indian President Narendra Modi recently visited Bangladesh and spoke out on India’s support for the country’s struggle for independence from Pakistan. Pakistani officials said that the speech constituted an “open admission” that India had contributed to the breakup of East Pakistan in 1971.
Modi later called Pakistan a “nuisance” in international relations, a characterization that the Pakistani Foreign Office said was “unfortunate.” Pakistani officials claimed that Modi’s speech confirmed their suspicions that India had pursued policies designed to destabilize Pakistan, and continues to do so.
Commentators believe that Modi’s remarks will only inflame the situation. “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,” said Idrees Ahmed, a political activist in Lahore, speaking to DW.
Lack of trust plays into hands of right-wing
Earlier on Wednesday, the Pakistani Prime Minister’s Advisor on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz demanded the international community and United Nations take notice of Modi’s statement. He said that the pronouncements threw India’s commitment to building good relations into doubt.
Army figures wasted no time in weighing in on the matter. Pakistan’s former military ruler Pervez Musharraf told reporters that the country’s nuclear arsenal is intended to be used in defense of the country, and not for a “celebratory” occasion. Musharraf claims that Indian aggression is part of a plan to eventually denuclearize Pakistan, which he said cannot be allowed to happen.
“Don’t attack us, don’t challenge our territorial integrity because we are not a small power, we’re a major and nuclear power. Don’t push us,” 71-year-old Musharraf said.
Pakistan currently possesses around 120 nuclear warheads, but its rapidly expanding weapons program could mean that the country has over 200 by the year 2020.
Musharraf urged Pakistan to respond in kind to the spate of aggressive statements from India and “be ready for any situation.” He blames Indian President Narendra Modi for the increasing tensions.
Rhetoric strengthens the hand of extremists
As well as the recent war of words related to Modi’s speech in Bangladesh and the surgical strike against insurgents in Myanmar, tensions have been raised due to a proposed China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, which will run through the disputed territory of Kashmir. Despite Indian objections to the plan, Pakistani Army chief General Raheel Sharif told the Chinese that the corridor would be completed without any security problems.
Aggressive rhetoric from both sides stands to benefit military figures and religious extremists in both countries, according to analysts. Many believed that friendly bilateral relations would be possible after Modi’s election in May 2014, and at first he cooperated closely with Pakistani leader Sharif, even inviting him to his oath-taking ceremony.
However things were soon back to square one as gunfire was exchanged on the disputed Kashmir border. India maintains concerns that terrorist groups based in Pakistan are contributing to unrest within its borders, and memories of the Mumbai terrorist attacks remain fresh. India has officially accused Pakistan’s ISI spy agency of being responsible for the attacks.
India’s threat to enter foreign territory in pursuit of terrorists may arise from doubts over Pakistan’s willingness to eradicate militant groups based within its borders. However banging the war drums will only contribute to growing unrest in a region which should be concentrating on sowing the seeds of peace and development rather than aggressive rhetoric.
It is difficult to see any major improvement in the situation should belligerent statements continue to emanate from both sides. A major reset in the relationship between the two nations would have to overcome both contemporary and historical grievances which neither side seems willing to let lie.