NEW YORK: The current focus on North Korea’s growing arsenal obscures the fact that the most likely trigger for a nuclear exchange could be the conflict between India and Pakistan, the New York Times reported.
Long among the world’s most antagonistic neighbors, the two nations clashed again last week before, fortunately, finding the good sense to de-escalate. The latest confrontation, the most serious between the two nations in more than a decade, gave way to more normal pursuits like trade at a border crossing and sporadic cross-border shelling.
But this relative calm is not a solution. As long as India and Pakistan refuse to deal with their core dispute — the future of Kashmir — they face unpredictable, possibly terrifying, consequences.
The current crisis dates to Feb. 14, when a Kashmiri suicide bomber killed at least 40 Indian paramilitary officers in the deadliest attack in three decades in the divided region that both nations have claimed since partition in 1947.
Last week, India sent warplanes into Pakistan for the first time in five decades. Pakistan counterattacked, leading to a dogfight in which at least one Indian jet was shot down and a pilot was captured by the Pakistanis.
Prime Minister Imran Khan returned the pilot to India, in what was seen as a good-will gesture, called for talks and promised an investigation into the bombing. India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi took the opportunity to back off further escalation.
The situation could have easily escalated, given that the two countries have fought three wars over 70 years, maintain a near-constant state of military readiness along their border and have little formal government-to-government dialogue.
Adding to the volatility, Narendra Modi, is waging a tough re-election campaign in which he has used anti-Pakistan talk to fuel Hindu nationalism.
The next confrontation might not end so calmly.
Without international pressure, a long-term solution is unlikely, and the threat of nuclear war remains.
While the Clinton, Bush and Obama administrations aggressively worked to ensure that India-Pakistan confrontations in 1999, 2002 and 2008 did not spiral out of control, the Trump administration has done little but issue a few statements urging restraint. It’s hard to see a role as a mediator for Mr. Trump.
A solution to a conflict that touches so many religious and nationalist nerves must ultimately come from within, through talks among India, Pakistan and the people of Kashmir.
The two countries have crossed into dangerous territory, with India and Pakistan engaging in aerial duels. The next confrontation, or the one after that, could be far more unthinkable.