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Is another escalation between India and Pakistan on cards?

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By: Dr Ishfaq Jamal

In a press conference held at Multan on 7th of AprilPakistan’s foreign minister shah Mehmood Qureshi made some startling statements that India was planning more aggression and attacks on Pakistan in the 3rd week of April. Qureshi stressed that there is strong evidence that India was planning a new wave of attacks on Pakistani soil and it may be within Pakistan administrated Kashmir or deep in mainland Pakistan. There may be a sequel of Pulwama like attack in valley followed by Indian aggression on Pakistan soil, he maintained.

However, India’s foreign ministry immediately called this statement as ‘irresponsible’ and accused Pakistan of ‘creating war hysteria’. Last week also a report of one of Americas leading magazine, foreign policy rejected India’s claim of shooting down f16 in the dog fight on 27thFebruary. Foreign policy claimed that it interviewed two defense officials of USA and both confirmed that all the f16 aircrafts were present and accounted for, which is in direct contradiction to India’s claim of shooting down F16.

Very next day Pentagon said that it was not aware of any count of f16 by US officials thus creating more ambiguity in the air. The state department made it clear that they do not publicly comment on govt. to govt. agreements especially related to defense. On the same day ISPR of Pak Army released images of all four missile seeker heads from debris including two R-77 adder and twoR-73 Archer, recovered intact from Mig -21 which wing commander Abhinandan was flying and which India claims to have shot down f16. On 8th April Indian Air force held a press conference releasing radar images of February 27 dog fight and claimed to have more irrefutable evidence of shooting down f16.

After the February 27 dog fight between PAF and IAF, the battle between India and Pakistan has taken the shape of information warfare with each side claiming to have wrecked heavy losses on the other. An army colonel turned journalist, wrote in Aljazeera that, Pakistan won the perception war after February 27. Whereas a report in Indian digital media website Scroll.in also revealed that Imran khan stumped Modi in perception battle over air strikes.

As India is now engaged in multi-phased parliament elections that began from 11th of April, ruling party, BJP, is under tremendous pressure due to its failure on various fronts and the promises that it had made during 2014 general elections. BJP has high stakes in whipping up war hysteria and nationalistic fervor. Surgical strike and Balakot air strike may have provided a base for whipping up nationalistic fervor, but subsequently not being able to prove the tall claims of success made in either of these strikes may add chances of backfiring. Many international analysts believe that Modi Govt. may go for another wave of escalation against Pakistan keeping in view the high stakes in elections via nationalistic fervor. Recently a top expert with the Chinese defense forces, Professor JinYanan from the national defence university claimed that Indian air force lost its image badly as the feature of air warfare is,“a single aircraft and a single pilot can determine the result of an air battle”. As India is only providing circumstantial evidences of shooting f16 were as Pakistan in addition to shooting down Mig fighter jet also claims to have shot India’s advanced fighter aircraft Sukhoi-30. BJP govt. has been under tremendous pressure to prove its claims about aerial skirmishes on February 27 and killings in Balakot.

Michael Kugelman, an analyst and a US based think tank of Woodrow Wilson centre warned of the readiness of both India and Pakistan to climb up the escalation ladder in a short span of time. Pertinent to mention is Kugleman’s warning about the harmful implications of India’s inability to prove its claims post Balakot strike may have deleterious political implications just days before election. He also warned that Indian PM may have something he will use right before or during the elections. Documents of Woodrow Wilson reveal that chances of another flare up between India and Pakistan are high. Third and 4th week of April marks 2nd,3rd and 4th phases of Indian elections in which there is voting on some 300 seats, so the timing mentioned by SM Qureshi shows a link between elections and escalation.

With some 1.7 billion populations in subcontinent mostly poor and underprivileged, the two nations can’t effort a war especially when both possess dreaded nuclear weapons. International community needs to play its part in deescalating the situation and at the same time convincing both India and Pakistan to resolve all the outstanding issues, especially Kashmir issue, through dialogue. Democracies are a hope for peaceful world.

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Author is a Kashmir based columnist with interest in political and defence analysis.

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