India vs Pakistan: Both sides complacent about dangerous risk of nuclear war, says expert

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The tensions were illustrated this week after reports of “heavy shelling” in the Poonch district of the Jammu and Kashmir region along the so-called Line of Control. The Kashmir Walla website reported Pakistan troops had shelled Indian Army posts, with the Indian Army retaliating. No casualties were reported.

The greatest complacency comes from India and Pakistan, in that both have settled into assumptions that they can safely attack each other without triggering major escalation

Frank O’Donnell

Frank O’Donnell, a Nonresident Fellow with the Stimson Center South Asia Program, said the incident highlighted the ongoing risks of dangerous escalation.

He told “The greatest complacency comes from India and Pakistan, in that both have settled into assumptions that they can safely attack each other without triggering major escalation.

“Both are certain that they know where the other’s nuclear threshold is, despite this being not what is publicly stated as the threshold by that country.”

With reference to the latest clashes, he added: “This forms another uptick in the long history of anti-India unrest in Kashmir, as well as provocative actions by Pakistan along the Line of Control.

“Sudden and sustained incidents of Pakistani shelling of Indian positions are often conducted to provide covering fire for Pakistan-sponsored militants to sneak into Indian-administered Kashmir, although it is unclear if this occurred in this specific episode.”

The incidents also demonstrated a need for India’s President, Narendra Modi, to modify his belligerent approach, Mr O’Donnell said.

He explained: “What is more prominent is how these Indian armed operations, both along the Line of Control and within Srinagar, have disproven BJP claims during the 2016 ‘surgical strike’ and 2019 Pulwama-Balakot crisis that India’s actions there had sufficiently restored deterrence against Pakistan, and that the above Pakistani actions would all but cease.

“To avoid further dangerous experimentation with escalation ladder thresholds between these nuclear adversaries, India should return to its strategy of diplomatic multilateral coercion adopted after the 2008 Mumbai attacks.”

Mr O’Donnell’s 2019 essay, Stabilizing Nuclear Southern Asia, which was published last year, noted such an approach had proved far more costly to Pakistan, quoting a Pakistani military officer as saying: “Terrorism emanating from Pakistan does not pay.

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“If India can make Pakistan appear to be the source of terror, Pakistan appears to be the laughing stock, the one the world condemns.

“This is a better result for India than they would get from a war!”

India and Pakistan have clashed on numerous occasions since Indian independence in 1947, and the formation of two sovereign nations, the Dominion of India and the Dominion of Pakistan.

The two countries went to war in 1965 in a conflict triggered by disputes related to the Jammu and Kashmir region, with thousands of casualties on each side prior to the imposition of a United Nations-mandated ceasefire.

A second war was fought in 1971, which eventually resulted in East Pakistan becoming Bangladesh.

More recently, the two came close to war last year after a suicide bomber killed 38 Indian military policeman, with India blaming Islamist militant group Jaish-e-Mohammed.

India responded by launching a series of raids on a Jaish camp, and Pakistan then retaliated by shooting down an Indian jet.

Speaking at the United Nations last year, Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan said: “My main reason for coming here was to meet world leaders at the UN and speak about this.

“We are heading for a potential disaster of proportions that no one here realises.

“It is the only time since the Cuban crisis that two nuclear-armed countries are coming face to face. We did come to face to face in February.”

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