In the heightened tensions between the two nuclear-armed arch rivals what is being forgotten is the growing discontent in the disputed region of Kashmir.
Pakistan and India are at it once again. The nuclear-armed neighbours have drawn out their guns as warmongers from both sides call for blood while sane voices plead for peace, talks and reconciliation.
In the recent bout of tensions, Pakistan’s air force claims it shot down two Indian jets over the disputed region of Kashmir on Wednesday, a day after the Indian military claimed it hit a terrorist camp inside Pakistan.
Tension rose on February 14 after a suicide attack in the Pulwama area of Indian-administered Kashmir in which 40 paramilitary troops were killed.
New Delhi blamed a Pakistan-based group, Jaish e Mohamed for the attack. But Islamabad says the young Kashmiri who carried out suicide bombing was from Indian-administered Kashmir where soldiers are blamed for human rights abuses.
Is it all Kashmir?
The two countries have fought four wars since their independence from British colonial rule in 1947. Kashmir, the Himalayan region, divided between the two, has been at the heart of the conflict.
“All of this is Kashmir-centric. It’s all happening on the LoC (Line of Control), Pakistan shot down Indian jets on LOC, and India also carried out its incursion by crossing over the LOC,” Amjad Shoaib, a retired Pakistan army general, told TRT World.
The LOC is the heavily guarded border dividing parts of Kashmir controlled by Pakistan and India.
Shoaib says India wants to influence the events, so the international community sees the “struggle for freedom” in Kashmir as terrorism.
“They have failed to control the uprising, and they were waiting for a (Pulwama-like) incident to happen. That’s because India can use any sort of brutal force to fight the war on terror without anyone questioning them.”
An indigenous militancy has hit Indian-administered Kashmir where a majority of the people oppose New Delhi’s rule.
Some people fear that the ongoing tit-for-tat retaliation could overshadow the plight of Kashmiri people.
“The casualty in all of this are Kashmiris,” Adil Najam, Dean of the Frederick S. Pardee School of Global Studies at Boston University, told TRT World.
“It’s amazing that every time something like this happens it’s because of the immense tension in Kashmir, and as soon as it happens it becomes something between India and Pakistan.”
The United Nations and major world power react to the situation not because of what’s happening in Kashmir but because both the countries are nuclear powers, he says.
Call for restraint
A few hours after reports surfaced that an Indian pilot is in Pakistan’s custody, Prime Minister Imran Khan offered to cooperate with New Delhi in investigating the Pulwama attack.
War would harm both countries, he said.
“Pakistan offered talks and has been saying all along that it will take action against terrorists if India provides evidence,” says Shoaib, the retired general.
“India mistook it as our weakness. Now we said the same thing from a position of strength.”
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi did not immediately comment, but he was meeting military officials to review the situation.
While Turkey, China and a few other states asked the two neighbours to exercise caution, there are concerns that the international community isn’t playing an active role to defuse the escalation.
“Everyone knew for at least multiple weeks of what was about to happen. For world leaders to just sit and hope that it will go away was, I think, an amazing act of hubris,” says Najam.
Despite the heightened fear of conflict Pakistan and India have so far avoided reaching out to the UN Security Council, he said.
“That indicates they have lost trust in the UN.”
The international community could play its role in investigating the allegations that both sides have made against each other, he says.
India’s policy to sidestep diplomacy in favour of a cross-border military operation could backfire, Dr Shaista Tabassum, a Karachi-based international relations expert, told TRT World.
“It’s true a conflict will not only lead to loss of human life, but it will damage Pakistan's fragile economy. But if you look at it from Pakistan’s perspective, it would be a struggle for its survival, and it will fight with all its resources.”
If what India says is true then it would be the first time since 1971 that Indian planes had dropped bombs inside Pakistan, she says.
“India could do that again and again if Pakistan hadn’t reacted.”