Indian students pray for the speedy release of Indian Air Force pilot Abhinandan Varthaman. Pakistan agreed to release him as a 'gesture of peace.' Photo: AFP

Peace and stability in South Asia have once again been put into question by the conflict between perennial rivals India and Pakistan. The terrorist attack on Indian forces in Pulwama, Jammu and Kashmir, in February and a subsequent aerial action by India last week in which it crossed the Line of Control (LoC) for the first time since 1971 have led to a sharp escalation of armed hostilities between the neighbors.

A retaliatory aerial action by Pakistan led to fears of a limited war. International pressure from major powers and actors around the world have help rein in the situation, as both sides have shown restraint in recent days. Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan’s decision to return the captured Indian Air Force (IAF) pilot was a welcome step in trying to ease the tensions. Not only India and Pakistan, but the whole of South Asia and the world in general cannot afford a war between the two nuclear powers in view of the devastating consequences it could lead to.

Since their partition in 1947, India and Pakistan have fought three major wars apart from a limited conflict in Kargil that took place in 1999. The major dispute between the two countries is related to the Kashmir issue, which has remained one of the oldest unresolved matters in world politics. Nationalist sentiments have taken precedence over all other aspects, as a result of which no solution has been found. As both the countries have stuck to their own stances and demands, a solution of the Kashmir issue does not seem possible in the foreseeable future.

India accuses Pakistan of harboring terrorist organizations that carry out attacks in Indian territory from time to time. Pakistan vehemently denies such accusations, claiming that it stands against all forms of terrorism and that it too has suffered from the scourge of terrorism. At the same time, Pakistan accuses India of carrying out destabilizing activities in its restive autonomous territory of Gilgit-Baltistan.

For the sake of peace and stability in the region and welfare of their people, both India and Pakistan should act as responsible powers and not engage in any sort of adventurism. Because of their nuclear capabilities, both the countries should realize that a total war could lead to a level of destruction that cannot be fathomed

Terrorism has become a global menace and therefore no country should harbor terrorists. The war on terrorism should become a common global goal. For the sake of peace and stability in the region and welfare of their people, both India and Pakistan should act as responsible powers and not engage in any sort of adventurism. Because of their nuclear capabilities, both the countries should realize that a total war could lead to a level of destruction that cannot be fathomed.

The current conflict has domestic as well as international dimensions to it. The Indian action has naturally created a wave of patriotic sentiment all over the country. It is bound to strengthen the position of the Bharatiya Janata Party and Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the upcoming parliamentary elections. Similarly, the statures of Khan and the Pakistani armed forces are bound to rise among the Pakistani population in the wake of retaliatory action and subsequent gesture of freeing the captive IAF pilot.

In the days ahead, Pakistan will feel intense pressure from India as well as major world powers to act against Jaish-e-Mohammed and other terrorist outfits that are operating from its soil despite denying the fact that they are. Its economy has also been going through a tremendous strain. The US has been critical of Pakistan’s indifference toward acting against terrorists and has supported India’s right to self-defense.

China has been an all-weather friend of Pakistan but at the same time its economic dealings with India have also skyrocketed over the years. It too would not want the conflict to escalate considering that it shares borders with both countries.

It is unlikely that the Kashmir issue will be taken up at the United Nations or any other multilateral forum. Therefore, it is imperative for India and Pakistan to resolve their outstanding issues through peaceful dialogues and negotiations and not through violence.

The South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) has remained crippled for most of the time since its inception because of the rivalry between India and Pakistan. The recent confrontation between the two countries does not bode well for its future. As the current chair of SAARC, Nepal had been urging both countries to create a favorable environment for hosting the summit scheduled to be held in Islamabad, but the chances of it taking place appear to have been diminished for a long time to come.

A major conflict between India and Pakistan would have negative political, economic and security impacts on the smaller countries of the region as they struggle to find their footing in the power politics of their bigger neighbors. Although South Asia lags behind in economic development, it poses a huge potential in terms of resources and markets. As the two biggest and most powerful countries of the region, India and Pakistan can do a lot for the shared prosperity of the region.

Peace and stability in South Asia cannot be achieved unless there is peace between India and Pakistan. Peace and stability are prerequisites for development. Therefore, an armed conflict or a war between India and Pakistan would have a detrimental impact on development of the whole South Asian region. Instead of upping the ante, both India and Pakistan should ease tensions and start dialogue at the earliest to end the current stalemate and work toward building a lasting peace for the benefit of not only themselves but the region and the world in general.

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Gaurab Shumsher Thapa

Gaurab Shumsher Thapa is an analyst and writer on topics related to international relations. He is the president and managing director of the Nepal Forum of International Relations Studies (NEPAL FIRST).

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