| Muhammad Tahir |
ISLAMABAD (Xinhua) – Following renewed cross-border skirmishes between Pakistani and Indian forces, senior Pakistani military and political leaders have underscored the need for an immediate de-escalation.
Pakistan says Indian troops are shelling areas across the Line of Control in the disputed Kashmir region and a nearly 200-kilometre border called the “Working Boundary” that separates Pakistan’s eastern Punjab province from the Indian-administered part of Kashmir.
The shelling has killed nearly 22 people and dozens more have been injured, almost all civilians, over the past week in Pakistan and India, military officials in both countries said. Thousands have fled their homes.
Pakistan and India declared a ceasefire along the LoC in 2003 and guns have been relatively silent since then. However, violent exchanges were again witnessed in recent days and both nuclear neighbours accused each other of violating the ceasefire.
Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on Friday presided over an emergency meeting of the National Security Committee (NSC) that makes decisions on key security issues, to discuss the situation arising from the “unprovoked firing by the Indian forces.”
In an official statement issued at the conclusion of the NSC meeting, the leaders avoided using harsh words and said “it is the shared responsibility of the leadership of both countries to immediately diffuse the situation.” They, however, noted with regret the “irresponsible statements made at the political level in India” in the backdrop of the situation at the LoC and Working Boundary.
Cross-border shelling is seen as a serious setback for Prime Minister Sharif’s efforts to normalize relations with India. Sharif traveled to New Delhi in May this year to attend Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s oath-taking ceremony that Pakistan insists was a “manifestation of the government’s sincere desire to constructively engage India to establish durable peace in the region.”
The visit had raised hopes for revival of formal dialogue as Nawaz Sharif and Modi had instructed their top diplomats to meet and explore ways for resuming talks. India, however, abruptly canceled the foreign-secretary level dialogue in August over a meeting of Pakistan’s top envoy with Kashmiri separatist leaders.
India’s decision upset Pakistan as it was viewed as an attempt to kill high hopes for the resumption of the “Composite Dialogue” India had stopped after the 2008 Mumbai attacks.
The attacks proved to be a serious blow to relations as the Indian government had blamed the militant group “Lashkar-e-Taiba” that India says is based in Pakistan for the attack. India says it is “disappointed” at the slow pace of the trial of several Taiba’s activists who had been arrested in connection with the Mumbai attacks.
When Nawaz Sharif assumed the office of Prime Minister for the third time in June last year, he vowed warmer ties with India as part of his government’s foreign policy to have good relations with neighbours including Afghanistan.
Sharif’s visit to New Delhi was aimed at personally conveying the message of improving relations and to end the deadlock in dialogue.
Nawaz Sharif also won rare support in the country to improve relations with India that has always been a sensitive issue.
Pakistani leaders argue the ball is now in India’s court to come up with a positive response and to push for the dialogue process to find out solutions to all disputes. Pakistani military and political leaders have rightly pointed out that “war is not an option” with India. This approach requires a similar Indian response as it is the only way to live in peace.
Pakistan and India’s rising tensions have also raised concerns outside Pakistan as UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and the United States are urging both nuclear neighbours to defuse tensions and peacefully resolve problems.