Is South East Asia at the Brink of War
*Dr. Mehmood Ul Hassan Khan
Timing and intensity of series of incidents has started a new “blame game” among the important capitals of South East Asia. India as usual and Iran as compulsion promoted “war hysteria” against Pakistan due to recent unfortunate series of events. Government of Pakistan and Prime Minister Imran Khan has strongly rejected any involvement of his country in sad incidents of Pulwama and targeting of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, also known as the Pasdaran, in Sistan-Baluchestan province. Prime Minister has made it clear that if India attacks, Pakistan will surely retaliate.
Indian government, various political parties, main stake holders of its society and mass media is at same page for blaming Pakistan for terrible incidents of Pulwama bombing. Since India is passing through elections so, its establishment and BJP wants to sell seeds of hatred, prejudice and discrimination by branding Pakistan as a terrorist country. BJP the ruling party of India wishes to take maximum advantage from the killings of its paramilitary guards in the upcoming elections. A Mexican wave is going on in various states of India to take revenge from Pakistan by attacking or another so called surgical strike. India must realize that Pakistan is also a nuclear state and any provocation, surgical strike or limited war could be lethal to both the countries. Politics may be a zero sum game but war is a devastating compounding factor which achieves nothing but total destruction.
Regional alignment and regional power politics are playing the hide and see game in South East Asia for so many visible reasons and invisible agendas. Pakistan increasing penchant towards Russia and paramount role in the ongoing peace process of Afghanistan has already marginalized India’s hegemonic designs in the region. Pakistan’s ties with Russia are on the “roller coaster” in terms of military cooperation, energy integration (gas pipeline), joint ventures (Pakistan Steel Mills) and science and technology collaborations is a wake call for India. Moreover, China, Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) has become one of the biggest bones of contention in South East Asia and beyond. Iran considers it threat to its blue economy and diminishing impact to its Chabahar Port conjointly financed and constructed by Iran and India.
India labels CPEC anti to its regional supremacy, territorial sovereignty and economic might. Whereas, US projects CPEC and BRI as icons of Chinese domination and development. So, divergence of vested socio-economic, geopolitical and geostrategic interests has found new soils, new reasons and new justifications for regional proxies in South East Asia. Unfortunately Pakistan now finds itself in a tricky position.
A senior commander of the Iranian Pasdaran has said that the suicide bomber that targeted the Guards’ bus was a Pakistani, as were two of the facilitators of the attack. It seems that while Pakistan has condemned the targeting of the Pasdaran, Tehran follows India to blame Pakistan without any solid proof. India and Iran need to refrain from hurling accusations against Pakistani authorities without solid proof. There needs to be an investigation involving Pakistan, India and Iran so that the perpetrators of these tragedies can be brought to justice. Iranian military commanders’ are also taking about ‘hot pursuit’ inside Pakistan which is totally unacceptable as Pakistan’s sovereignty must be respected. Cross-border attacks have been the biggest irritants standing in the way of better Islamabad-Tehran relations but political maturity and sanity must prevail while taking about bilateral relations. Diplomatic channels must be there to resolve any issue among the nations because war brings destruction and kills development.
Iranian Sistan-Baluchestan has had been playing ground of militants groups such as Jundallah and its successor Jaish al-Adl. These militants have been waging a low-level insurgency against the Iranian government in the province, based on ethnic nationalism and sectarian jihadi rhetoric. It is in both countries’ interest to work together to defeat such groups. In the past, Pakistan’s authority helped recover a number of Iranian border guards kidnapped last year by Jaish al-Adl, while there have been high-level bilateral exchanges between the civilian and military top brass of both countries focusing on security. Non-state actors are playing a destabilising role in the region therefore defeating militancy requires a regional, coordinated approach not war hysteria.
Pulwama bombing in Kashmir has once again increased the temperature between New Delhi and Islamabad. Diplomatic ties have been again fragile between the two neighboring countries. Subsequently, India blames Pakistan while Pakistan rejects its accusations. Pakistani Prime Minister offers cooperation and guarantees investigations if India shares any “actionable intelligence” in this regard. Indian response is still very poor and irrelevant.
Timing and intensity of Pulwama bombing have already raised serious doubts. Suicidal attacker was Kashmiri inhabitant not Pakistani but according to media reports, Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) which is banned in Pakistan and listed as a terrorist organisation has claimed responsibility for the attack. His family stills lives in Pulwama which shows no outside connection. He carried 250 KG arms which was a serious security breach in a high security zone like Pulwama. Even his car and body remains are still surprisingly missing. His family claimed that severs torture and continued Indian atrocities forced his son to follow this path. Kashmir once heaven on earth has been under siege of darkness and cruelty of Indian 700,000 deployed army. Constant Indian military means has stopped any political engagement in the valley which has alienated its people from the rest of the world. Moreover, Kashmir is the only state in India which has its own constitution according to “Article 370 of Constitution of India” which shows its special and disputed status.
Despite Indian concrete efforts to get isolated Pakistan in the world, most recently an overwhelming majority of members of the European Parliament (MEPs) attending a landmark event on the rights situation in occupied Kashmir put their weight behind the recommendations of a United Nations report on the state of human rights in the valley, and called on India to immediately halt its atrocities in Kashmir. They called on India to immediately put a halt to its atrocities in occupied Kashmir and carry out investigations into the incidents of grave human rights violations. The MEPs also highlighted the need for peaceful resolution of the Kashmir issue through dialogue between Pakistan and India, and with full participation of Kashmiri people. The event is a huge diplomatic success for Pakistan as it is the first time in more than a decade that the EU has officially organised an event on Kashmir, where Islamabad's concerns regarding India’s human rights violations in occupied Kashmir have been discussed.
Moreover, Pakistan's Permanent Representative to the United Nations Maleeha Lodhi called on United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres at the UN. During the meeting, she briefed Guterres about the latest developments and the situation in occupied Kashmir and asked him to play a role in de-escalating tensions between India and Pakistan in the aftermath of the Pulwama attack.
In a race of madness, Indian minister has now warned to stop or divert water of Pakistan which is again serious violation of Indus Water Treaty (IWT). In response to an Indian minister’s statement that his country has decided to stop the flow of water to Pakistan from its share in the rivers under the Indus Water Treaty (IWT), Pakistan says it has no concern if India diverts water of eastern rivers (Ravi, Sutlej and Beas).
Most recently held the National Security Committee has chaired by Prime Minister Imran Khan, during which the nation's top decision-makers discussed the geo-strategic and national security environment in light of the Pulwama incident and its aftermath. The members of the meeting noted and established that "the state of Pakistan is not involved in any way, means or form in the said incident" and that it was "conceived, planned and executed indigenously". The statement asserted that Pakistan had made a sincere offer to investigate the incident and stands ready to enter into dialogue on the issue of terrorism and other disputed matters. Simultaneously, the NSC also gave formal authorisation to the armed forces "to respond decisively and comprehensively to any aggression or misadventure by India".
United States President Donald Trump has said that his government will comment on last week’s suicide bombing in Pulwama that killed more than 40 Indian troops at "an appropriate time".
Earlier State Department Deputy Spokesperson Robert Palladino during a press briefing said the US government was in touch with both the governments regarding the incident.
On its part China said that harmony between India and Pakistan is "crucial to regional peace" and hoped that the two neighbours can "exercise restraint". Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Geng Shuang, in a press conference, said: "Pakistan and India are both important countries in South Asia. A stable Pakistan-India relationship is crucial to regional peace, stability and development. China hopes that Pakistan and India can exercise restraint, engage in dialogues and realize an early soft landing of this issue.
Clouds of war is gathering over South East Asia because of dirty blame game carried out by India and surprisingly by Iran on the issue of terrorism. Non-state actors have become bitter reality which may be tamped through joint efforts without blaming each other. Indian electioneering has raised serious doubts about regional harmony and peace. Two nuclear states are at the brink of war which needs to be resolved as soon as possible.
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