It was a wildly provocative and shockingly aggressive act – and the potential repercussions extend to the hitherto unthinkable possibility of war itself between South Asia’s nuclear-armed neighbours.
With good sense having failed to prevail in India, the whole region now stands on the threshold of the unknown. By sending its military jets across the Line of Control and, allegedly, into Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) – one of Pakistan’s four provinces – in the early hours of Tuesday morning, India crossed a red line.
India’s official version of events on Tuesday differs from that of Pakistan. The facts are rarely publicly established whenever there are claims and counter-claims of military action along the LoC. But in this case India has claimed and Pakistan has acknowledged that Indian bombs dropped by Indian aircraft fell on KP soil. That itself is a shocking violation of Pakistani sovereignty that India ought never to have contemplated.
The awful spectacle of the Indian state, along with a wide section of its media and seemingly swathes of the population, celebrating an attack on Pakistan suggests that much of India does not understand what it has potentially triggered. Rational, right-minded and sensible citizens of both countries would recognise that military action by one country against the other’s sovereign territory virtually eliminates options for the victim – the necessity of a military response may become all but impossible to resist. But it is distressingly apparent that the Indian war lobby does not appreciate or perhaps have any regard for the potential consequences of provoking Pakistan into a military response.
On Tuesday, Pakistan’s National Security Council headed by Prime Minister Imran Khan pledged that Pakistan “shall respond at a time and place of its choosing”, an assertion that was reiterated by armed forces spokesman Maj-General Asif Ghafoor in a news conference. Surely, any remotely rational Indian policymaker or public figure would have recognised that Pakistan reserves the right to retaliate to an attack on its sovereign territory. Yet it does not appear that there are any rational Indian policymakers or public figures left.
Even as Pakistan reserves the unqualified right to defend itself against an unprovoked attack, the Pakistani state should urgently activate all diplomatic channels to put meaningful pressure on India to withdraw from its aggressive stance and to immediately halt its policy of repression of the people of India-held Kashmir. The international community simply cannot stand by and watch as India sends this region hurtling towards conflict and worse.
Global and regional powers have long recognised the potential of the Kashmir dispute to unravel into unthinkable conflict between India and Pakistan. Now it is India itself that has deliberately and forcefully dragged the region to the precipice of a historic war. The world must not allow India to bring destruction to a region of 1.5 billion people.