EDITORIAL| Return to diplomacy

Pakistani civil society activists hold placards during a peace rally in Islamabad on February 28, 2019, AFP

India and Pakistan seem to have walked back, at least for now, from the brink of war they had reached in the past two days. Pakistan has offered to return the Indian Air Force (IAF) pilot they had captured, and an IAF representative has indicated that while the armed forces remain on high alert, any further Indian action against Pakistan would depend on provocations from that country. This is to be welcomed. Both countries had climbed up the escalation ladder of conflict with claims and accusations and actions and counter-actions. After India’s strike at a Jaish-e-Mohammad camp in Pakistan on Tuesday, Pakistani aircraft violated Indian air space in a tit-for-tat action and sought to bomb Indian facilities. India shot down a Pakistani fighter. Pakistan downed an Indian MiG-21, captured the pilot and in an act of serious violation of conventions and norms paraded the wounded pilot on television. Shelling increased across the LoC, airports were shut down, and the war of words intensified. All this marked an intensification of hostilities. 

India made its point that it is ready to and capable of striking anywhere in Pakistan to ensure its security and protect its interests. Pakistan responded with some measures to save its face before its people and the world. Both countries should now display restraint and wisdom to contain the conflict and make sure that it does not go out of control. A war is bad for both countries. It will impose huge costs on the economy and society and result in terrible human misery. It will be entirely futile because it will not solve any problems that exist between the two countries. 

Both sides can now claim that they have hurt each other and made their respective points. The engagement should now shift to diplomatic or back channels or even direct talks. Pakistan has expressed its readiness for talks and India should choose its option. Pakistan has also offered to release the captured pilot, Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman, on Friday. This may be under pressure but is also a goodwill gesture. Both countries should ensure that the situation does not escalate from here. India has received a lot of moral and diplomatic support from the world after the Pulwama attack and even before that as a victim of terrorism. But no country would support a war between two nuclear powers which would have unpredictable consequences for the countries, the region and the world. External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj said in China on Wednesday that India would act with “responsibility and restraint’’. This should be seen in our practice. The hysteria and frenzy created by TV studio warriors is against the interests of the country. The people do not want a spiralling of violence and war, they want peace. 

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