Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 June 2019

Blame game only fuels hatred in Kashmir

After one of the worst attacks in decades, the disputed territory cannot be allowed to slide back into chaos

Indian paramilitary soldiers patrol south of Srinagar, Kashmir last year. AP 
Indian paramilitary soldiers patrol south of Srinagar, Kashmir last year. AP 

One of the deadliest attacks in decades in disputed Kashmir, in which 46 Indian soldiers died, should be followed by a period of mourning, reflection and a thorough investigation.

Instead, both India and Pakistan have resorted to accusatory, inflammatory statements against one another. India’s rambunctious finance minister Arun Jaitley said there was “incontrovertible evidence” of Islamabad’s involvement and vowed to take “all diplomatic steps” to isolate Pakistan from the international community. Pakistan’s foreign office responded by tweeting there was a “deliberate anti-Pakistan frenzy being spurred in India.”

Any debate about the hotly contested mountainous region, the cause of three wars between India and Pakistan since Partition in 1947, has always been febrile. And emotions are running high after the bomb attack in Pulwama in Indian-administered Kashmir on Thursday, claimed by Pakistan-based extremist group Jaish-e-Mohammad. What is required now is concerted efforts to counter terrorism, not a war of words, and a collective effort to deal with militant elements on both sides of the border, who wish to inflame more than 70 years of conflict.

Pakistan has denied Indian accusations of involvement in the attack but authorities in Islamabad carry the responsibility for weeding out extremists. Attempts to do so have thus far not been up to the challenge. When Imran Khan first rose to power last year, he said: “Kashmir remains our biggest contention…The leadership of Pakistan and India now need to come to the table to end this.”

For a brief moment, it seemed real progress had been made. Yet despite his campaign pledge, Mr Khan has not been able to advance that relationship, nor has India shown willing to seize the opportunity, instead cancelling an unprecedented meeting between ministers from both sides after three policemen were killed in Kashmir last September.

That, it seems, has set the tone for their relationship since. Kashmir remains the chief obstacle to peace between two countries that have more similarities than differences. Yet Pakistan’s failure to tackle terrorists operating within its borders and attacks on minorities by Indian hardliners suggest there is no clear path to agreement in the disputed territory.

Moreover, a deeply tragic episode is in danger of being wielded as an electioneering tool as Prime Minister Narendra Modi heads to the polls in May. A rapprochement between the two countries would mean stronger counter-terrorism efforts and the flourishing of economic ties between New Delhi and Islamabad, yet today they could not be more distant.

Mr Modi is under intense pressure from his supporters to “punish” Pakistan but isolation will resolve nothing and could serve only to radicalise more youth such as Adil Dar, the high school dropout who perpetrated Thursday’s attack.

Memories live long of a decade of violence in the 1990s, when insurgents rising up against Indian control led to the deaths of an estimated 100,000 people. Since then, Kashmir has slowly but cautiously opened up to tourists and enjoyed a period of relative stability. It cannot be allowed to slide back into chaos by two nuclear-armed powers locked in an intractable conflict, which has claimed too many lives already.

Updated: February 17, 2019 04:46 PM

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