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Punto muerto prolongado entre India y Pakistán
Punto muerto prolongado entre India y Pakistán
Calming India and Pakistan’s Tit-for-Tat Escalation
Calming India and Pakistan’s Tit-for-Tat Escalation
Op-Ed / Asia

Punto muerto prolongado entre India y Pakistán

Originally published in Política Exterior

El subcontinente ha vivido hostilidades, particiones, matanzas colectivas e incluso genocidios; para alcanzar una paz duradera, el conflicto centenario entre India y Pakistán debe ser abordado. Pero el fallo de los líderes de la región a la hora de aprender de los errores del pasado continúa amenazando con serias implicaciones para su futuro. Esto se hizo evidente en las celebraciones de India y Pakistán por el Día de la Defensa, el 6 de septiembre de 2015. Ese día, en 1965, ambos países entraron en guerra. Las celebraciones del año pasado alcanzaron un nuevo máximo de patrioterismo y cada Estado declaró su victoria sobre el otro. Un oficial indio avisó a Pakistán de que o se “comportaba” o tendría que estar preparado para sufrir ataques desde la frontera. En respuesta, Pakistán advirtió de que dichos ataques podrían tener una respuesta nuclear.

Las escaramuzas en la frontera ya han matado a civiles y militares inocentes a ambos lados: cada uno ha acusado al otro de comenzar el fuego. Los medios han utilizado la tragedia, añadiendo combustible a unas hostilidades que ya ardían entre los dos vecinos.

Esta imagen de hostilidad, sin embargo, no es compartida por la mayoría de la gente. Un niño pakistaní que viajó a India para recibir tratamiento para su corazón enfermo fue recibido cálidamente por los indios. Los comerciantes pakistaníes y los taxistas rechazaron cobrar a los visitantes indios en un partido de cricket en Lahore. Una película india que mostraba cómo un joven indio rescataba a una niña pakistaní que no podía hablar y conseguía reunirla con su familia, fue un éxito en ambos países. Los empresarios han pedido la libertad de comercio entre ambos países. Los viajes al país vecino han saturado las oficinas de visados de los consulados de India y Pakistán. Sin embargo, la paz no está a la vista.

La clase dominante pakistaní insiste en que no podrá haber ningún diálogo significativo con India sin una resolución de la disputa por Cachemira.

India, por otro lado, está de acuerdo en discutir la cuestión “K” –como ellos la describen– si Pakistán realmente se compromete a dejar de proteger y patrocinar el terrorismo. Las negativas y acusaciones no tienen fin. El amor de los habitantes de Cachemira por Pakistán todavía no ha traído ninguna compensación. Por el contrario, el movimiento de liberación de Cachemira perdió terreno moral después de ser infiltrados por militantes exportados por los pakistaníes, un desarrollo que ha dado al Estado indio una excusa para aumentar la represión en el Valle de Srinagar, donde los musulmanes son mayoría. Los políticos en India y los líderes militares en Pakistán continúan jugando a los extremos dentro de sus países: las políticas comunales en India tienen atractivo electoral, mientras que los militares pakistaníes se apoyan fuertemente en el nacionalismo y los sentimientos islamistas para ejercer el poder abierta o encubiertamente.

Las tensiones entre India y Pakistán se desbordan por toda la región.

Ambos países llevan a cabo una guerra subsidiaria en Afganistán: mientras India gasta enormes cantidades en levantar infraestructuras en el país, Pakistán mantiene una cómoda relación con los talibán afganos con la esperanza de influir en el curso político nacional. Nepal es usado por los servicios de inteligencia de ambos países para infiltrarse en el otro con espías. La Liga Awami en Bangladesh es percibida como pro-India: su archirrival es apoyado, por tanto, por Pakistán.

Las divisiones se han agudizado también por las propuestas para permitir a China un corredor económico que le dé acceso al puerto pakistaní en Baluchistán – Pakistán está totalmente a favor y ha advertido de que no permitirá ningún disturbio en este corredor. La cúpula del ejército, encargada de ejecutar la política exterior pakistaní, tiene el control total de la seguridad en Baluchistán, donde busca aplastar una insurgencia violenta. El ejército mantiene que India apoya a los militantes baluchíes y planea hacer frente a los “malhechores” en Baluchistán con mano dura. No hace falta decir que la situación en la provincia sigue siendo volátil.

La estabilidad en el sur de Asia solo puede ser alcanzada si hay un armisticio entre India y Pakistán.

Todos los partidos políticos de Pakistán apoyan las conversaciones y la construcción de una paz con India, pero el poder real descansa en el ejército. En India ocurre igual: los políticos seculares quieren diálogo, pero el ala de ultraderecha mantiene su influencia. A no ser que la política interior de ambos países tome un giro conciliador, las conversaciones de paz continuarán interrumpidas. Por tanto, es fundamental que la comunidad internacional adopte una política a largo plazo hacia la región en lugar de seguir centrándose en las ganancias a corto plazo. Las iniciativas políticas deberían estimular la construcción paso a paso de una relación: el primer paso podría ser la retirada de las tropas de ambos países del Glaciar de Siachen(Cachemira), donde desde los años noventa ambos ejércitos se han mantenido a pesar de la pérdida de alrededor de 2.000 soldados por las extremas condiciones climáticas.

Ciertamente, el enfoque actual –que incluye el elogio del primer ministro indio y actividades que solo sirven para construir la imagen pública del jefe del ejército pakistaní– resultará contraproducente en última instancia. Al mirar hacia el futuro, hay una cosa cierta: si a comunidad internacional falla a la hora de alentar a estos dos países a resolver sus asuntos pendientes, el sur de Asia seguirá siendo rehén de promotores de guerras y políticas sectarias.

Students chant slogans under the shade of national flag, after Pakistan shot down two Indian military aircrafts, according to Pakistani officials, during a march in Lahore, Pakistan 28 February 2019. REUTERS/Mohsin Raza
Q&A / Asia

Calming India and Pakistan’s Tit-for-Tat Escalation

Reciprocal airstrikes by India and Pakistan have been accompanied by shelling, troop reinforcements and small arms fire. In this Q&A calling for restraint between the nuclear-armed neighbours, Crisis Group’s Asia Program Director Laurel Miller notes that the airspace violations alone were the worst for 50 years.

What happened exactly?

On Tuesday, 26 February, India claimed that its air force had targeted “the biggest training camp of the Jaish-e-Mohammed … in Balakot”. The strikes – the most significant airspace violations in nearly 50 years – followed a deadly 14 February suicide car bombing in Pulwama in Indian-administered Jammu and Kashmir (J&K), which had been claimed by the Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammed militant group. India said it launched a “preventive strike” based on intelligence that Jaish intended to attack again. At a press conference, Foreign Secretary VK Gokhale said Pakistan “failed to take any concrete action against terrorists” and that the strike on the training facility had “killed a large number”. In its official statement on the airstrike in Pakistan-administered Kashmir, the Indian government said, “The existence of such massive training facilities, capable of training hundreds of jihadists could not have functioned without the knowledge of Pakistani authorities”.

Pakistan refutes Indian officials’ claims that more than 300 Jaish militants were killed in the attack. It acknowledges however that eight Indian Air Force jets had violated the Line of Control, which divides Pakistan’s Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) and Indian-controlled J&K. The Pakistan military’s spokesperson said that its Air Force’s “timely and effective response” had forced the Indian planes to retreat, dropping their bombs in an uninhabited area near Balakot in Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, causing no casualty or damage.

On 27 February, Pakistan’s foreign ministry said its Air Force had conducted six strikes on “non-military targets” in India to demonstrate the country’s “right, will and capability for self-defence”. Pakistan downed an Indian jet that entered its airspace in pursuit of the Pakistani aircraft, leading to the pilot’s capture. India claimed to have downed one of the intruding Pakistani jets.

Resort to military force for political ends increases the risks of escalation, no matter how unintended.

Although it is clear that cross-Line of Control attacks and aerial skirmishes between the two sides occurred, it is difficult to verify both countries’ claims and counter-claims of targets and impact. Pakistani officials have provided evidence, also circulated on social media, of the downed Indian jet and the captured pilot, but claims of six successful strikes conducted in Indian-controlled Kashmir are more difficult to verify. Despite ample evidence of its cross-Line of Control attacks, Indian claims of killing hundreds in the airstrike on a Jaish training base and downing a Pakistani jet lack credence since New Delhi did not provide any evidence.

Why did it happen?

India’s and Pakistan’s latest skirmishes are as much aimed at assuaging domestic constituency concerns as they are at convincing each other of their capacity to strike and seriousness of intent. Still, resort to military force for political ends increases the risks of escalation, no matter how unintended.

In the Indian context, Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government felt compelled to react in light of the countrywide outrage in the wake of the 14 February Jaish suicide car bombing. With elections months away, Modi, responding to domestic opinion – particularly that of his hardline BJP constituency – vowed to avenge the dead in Pulwama, including at least 40 Indian paramilitary police officers. “We will give a befitting reply; our neighbour will not be allowed to destabilise us,” he said, giving his security forces “permission to take decisions about the timing, place and nature of their response”. That response came in the shape of the 26 February airstrikes across the Line of Control.

Within Pakistan, given a long history of distrust toward, and war with India, the powerful military establishment had to demonstrate to constituencies at home that India’s hostile designs would be forcefully thwarted. On 22 February, days before the Indian Air Force strikes, the military’s spokesperson warned that, if India were to attack, Pakistan would never “fall short of capacity” and would “dominate the escalation ladder”. The day of the 26 February Indian attack, reiterating these warnings, the spokesperson referred to a meeting of the National Command Authority (NCA), which oversees Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal, saying to India, “I hope you know what the NCA means and what it constitutes”. 

What could happen next and why does it matter?

Both sides have left themselves room to climb down. Pakistani and Indian officials insist that their governments have no intention to escalate hostilities further. On 27 February, Pakistan’s military spokesperson said the Pakistan Air Force could have targeted a major Indian military installation in the strike area but chose to attack “in open space”, causing no casualties, so as to avoid escalation. The same day, speaking at a Russia-India-China foreign ministers meeting in Beijing, Indian Minister of External Affairs Sushma Swaraj said the 26 February strike, meant to pre-empt another terror attack, “wasn’t a military operation, no military installation was targeted”. India, she said, “doesn’t wish to see further escalation of the situation”.

For his part, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan called for restraint and diplomatic engagement and at the same time vividly highlighted the risks inherent in the current situation. The same day as his country’s planes launched strikes across the Line of Control, Khan elliptically referenced the nuclear capabilities in a television interview and said, “With the weapons you have and the weapons we have, can we afford miscalculation? Shouldn’t we think that, if this escalates, what will it lead to?” He also offered to release the captured Indian pilot and to cooperate with India in investigating the Pulwama attack.

New Delhi and Islamabad should immediately and urgently revive the hotline between their Directors General for Military Operations, a crucial mechanism to prevent unintended and inadvertent conflict escalation.

Despite Khan’s acknowledgement of escalation risks, and Indian and Pakistani claims of responsibility and restraint, their armies are continuing to clash with artillery shelling and small arms fire along the Line of Control. Meanwhile, tensions are also high within J&K due to an Indian crackdown on Kashmiri dissidents, which could provoke more alienated youth to join militants. This apparently was the case of the 14 February suicide bomber, who came from a village close to the site of the Pulwama attack.

What should be done?

The international community, including China, the EU and European governments, have called on India and Pakistan to exercise restraint and prevent further escalation. In Washington, expressing U.S. concern about the tit-for-tat attacks, a White House official said, “The potential risks associated with further military action by either side are unacceptably high for both countries, their neighbours, and the international community”.

If the two sides are to step down from the brink, their leaders, civil and military, should resist the temptation to pander to domestic constituencies and tone down hostile rhetoric.

There is little foreseeable prospect, no matter how desirable, of the top Indian and Pakistani leaderships re-establishing direct communication channels and bilateral dialogue. These have been frozen since the 2016 terror attacks in Indian Punjab and Indian-administered Kashmir, which New Delhi attributed to Pakistan-based militants. Nevertheless, New Delhi and Islamabad should immediately and urgently revive the hotline between their Directors General for Military Operations, a crucial mechanism to prevent unintended and inadvertent conflict escalation.

In the short and medium terms, New Delhi should rethink its approach toward and within J&K, ending the heavy-handed militarised response that has contributed to growing local alienation and disaffection. Pakistan should rethink its longstanding policy of supporting anti-India jihadist proxies, such as Jaish, that – as this latest round of escalation shows – are far more of a threat to national security than an asset.

This article was corrected on 2 March 2019 to place Balakot in Pakistan's Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, not Azad Jammu and Kashmir, as first reported by Pakistan.