Last Wednesday was the bloodiest day on the Line of Control (LoC) or the working boundary between Pakistan and India in Kashmir, as 13 lost their lives (ten civilians and three soldiers) when Indian troops shelled the civilian population in Neelam Valley in Pakistan-controlled Kashmir. 21 others got injured. Targets included a bus and an ambulance. Pakistani troops also retaliated and targeted Indian positions. In the thirteen years since Pakistan and India signed a ceasefire agreement in November 2003, these are the heaviest civilian casualties in one day. There is a definite escalation in incidents of shelling from both sides in an armed conflict that erupted a few months ago. Summoning senior diplomats to the respective foreign ministries for issuing the strongest of protests on both sides has become a routine affair for some time now. If there was any doubt left in the gravity of the situation, it was removed by the furious hotline exchanges between the Director Generals of Military Operations (DGMOs) from both countries on Wednesday after the shelling. The hotline which was originally conceived for a quick and easy high level contact between the armies of the two countries for stopping ceasefire violations and making sure that they are not repeated, was used on Wednesday for blaming and warning each other. The hotline has literally become too hot to be useful. It is pretty clear that the 2003 ceasefire is dead, creating a dangerous void in the tense and volatile relationship between the two nuclear armed neighbours. It is particularly so as Indian held Kashmir is gripped by a sustained and popular anti-Indian uprising and India blames Pakistan for a terrorist attack in Urri on an Indian military base.

With no political initiative for defusing the tension and normalising the situation in sight from both sides or the international community, it is also pretty obvious that the expansion of armed conflict is going to be in direct proportion to the contraction of peace with a strong potential for unintended consequences. Those of us who have lived long enough to remember the previous wars between India and Pakistan know that thinking through the consequences of war has been the last thing that the governments would do. Consequently, the fallout of every war against India would lead to the emergence of menacing crises in Pakistan. But in all fairness, even those of us who oppose and criticise the government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on issues such as the ToRs for investigating Panama Leaks, ignoring western route of CPEC, non-implementation of the 18th Amendment or for delaying reforms in FATA, cannot blame his government for launching chauvinist campaigns or building war hysteria against any of the neighbouring countries including India. In fact, PML-N took a clear stand on building good neighbourly relations with India before the 2013 general elections and did try to implement this policy after coming in power. It is the considered opinion of PM Nawaz Sharif, that without peaceful relations with neighbouring countries, Pakistan will not be able to achieve the goal of socioeconomic development. But this is also an open secret that the security establishment of the country is not only opposed to the aforementioned policy of PM Nawaz Sharif, but has actively resisted its implementation manifesting a diarchy in the state system. This has been one of the most important points of contention between the civil and military leadership of Pakistan during the last few years.

The Narendra Modi-led Indian government, initially did some posturing for improving relations with Pakistan but it didn’t properly evaluate and reciprocate the initiatives of PM Nawaz Sharif, who had taken a political risk by initiating a rapprochement with India. Pakistan-India relations have also been negatively impacted by weakening of secularism in India for obvious reasons. Extremisms meet and reinforce each other despite their opposition on the surface. The insecurity generated among Kashmiris by the anti-autonomy stand of BJP government has led to the current mass uprising in Kashmir. The world isn’t buying the Pakistani narrative on Kashmir due to our record of support for religious extremists and militants. After all, the elements that were seen as ‘assets’ by Pakistan’s security establishment have proven to be a liability. Pakistan is facing international isolation because of them. Unfortunately, Pakistan hasn’t been able to get rid of them.

Be that as it may, the political leadership in Pakistan and India need to take serious steps to stop the current escalation on LoC. The wars fought by the two neighbours against each other in the past haven’t solved any problem. In fact, war is not at all an option between the two states armed with nuclear weapons. They will have to come to political negotiations for resolving their differences. The ruling elites of both countries have no right to squander precious resources on military build-up. Like Germany and France, Pakistan and India will ultimately have to opt for peaceful coexistence. Why should the governments of the two countries waste time and resources in meaningless confrontations?