ISLAMABAD — Months of rising friction followed by recent signs of an easing of tensions between India and Pakistan have sent analysts scrambling for fresh assessments of the military balance between South Asia’s two nuclear powers.
The number of tanks, aircraft and naval destroyers along with their origin, price tags and performance are just a few of the items compared.
Even as the risk of war recedes, war games by the two militaries may continue. Scenario-building has become a passion for analysts seeking to figure out how a conflict would develop and conclude.
In the comfort of academic ivory towers, battlefield comparisons may deliver any number of outcomes, with a conventional conflict producing territorial gains, losses or perhaps no change in the status quo.
The real question is the likelihood of the two nations’ coming to blows. Nuclear armaments provide each with an overkill capability, which renders assessments of comparative and conventional military balances partly, if not fully, irrelevant. With the international community closely focused on Pakistan and India, it is likely that the two countries will back away from the brink and perhaps resume a peace dialogue in the hopes of placating world opinion.
To achieve long-term peace, however, Pakistan and India must fundamentally restructure their relationship, using three vital principles as a guideline.
First, without questioning the basic position of each country on Kashmir — the disputed Himalayan region at the heart of Indo-Pakistani frictions — there can be no avoiding the truth that a durable solution to this difficult problem must be found. For years, with India and Pakistan at odds over their rival claims to Kashmir, thousands of innocent civilians have died and one of the world’s largest concentrations of military forces has been deployed. The consequence of the 13-year-long Kashmiri people’s struggle in Indian-administered Kashmir has been more broken lives.
India and Pakistan should recognize that the interests and aspirations of the Kashmiri people must stand supreme. Although a plebiscite in the disputed state, as once approved by the United Nations, would not be acceptable to India, a mechanism for gauging the political opinion of the people of the state must become a cornerstone of any political reconciliation.
Second, the pace of militarization by Pakistan and India must undergo international scrutiny. For countries with impoverished people, there can be no moral justification for intense preparations to fight a conventional or a nuclear war.
The challenge, therefore, for the international community is to urge both countries to embark upon an intense attack on poverty and underdevelopment. To a large extent, the seeds of militancy sprout from poverty and lack of opportunity.
Finally, Pakistan and India must be urged not only to return their militaries to peace-time positions while their bilateral disputes are left unresolved, but also to adopt a renewed commitment toward expanding their bilateral relations to elements within their civil societies.
Only a broad-based relationship driven by growing ties between the populations on both sides of the border can improve overall relations. While Pakistan and India may remain far from friends, the building of a harmonious relationship must be the central objective of international diplomacy.
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