Indian and Pakistani soldiers again targeted each other’s posts and villages along their volatile frontier in the disputed Kashmir on Saturday, killing at least six civilians and two Pakistani troops. The military confrontation between India and Pakistan escalated since a suicide bomb blast on Indian security forces in southern Kashmir on February 14. India blamed Pakistan for the attack while Pakistan has insisted it had no involvement in it. On February 27, both New Delhi and Islamabad claimed they had shot down each other’s fight jets.
The roots of the fresh round of tit-for-tat attacks between India and Pakistan lie in the protracted dispute in Kashmir, which was a result of the “divide and rule” policy adopted by the British colonialists.
As the Indian general election is approaching, the spiked tensions with Pakistan have increased the pressure on Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. If Modi does not take further actions, domestic pressure is likely to mount. With the support of the US, India is bolder to take radical measures than Pakistan.
With tensions in South Asia at their peak, New Delhi may increase pressure on China, demanding Beijing support its efforts at the United Nations to list Masood Azhar, leader of Jaish-e-Mohammed, as a global terrorist. However, India needs to offer irrefutable evidence.
Pakistan hopes to de-escalate tensions through investigation, cooperation and dialogue. Releasing a captured Indian pilot on March 1 may suggest it is seeking rapprochement.
As nuclear powers, India and Pakistan should exercise restraints. With both the estranged neighbors members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), China does not want to see further escalation between them. Beijing hopes the two neighbors can resolve their disputes in a peaceful way. It is unwilling to see them resort to arms.
Amid mounting hostilities, China is trying to cool tempers. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Lu Kang said on February 27, “Our concern is that India and Pakistan, two important countries in South Asia, will maintain good neighborliness and that South Asia will maintain peace and stability. So we hope both sides could exercise restraint, take measures conductive to promoting dialogue and work actively to contribute to lasting peace and stability in South Asia.”
Bilateral dialogue contributes to peace and stability in South Asia. Currently, there are no signs that India and Pakistan will go into a war, since if it happens, there will be no winner. Both Pakistan and India will find the cost of war too high despite their intransigence.
China will play an important role in reducing tensions between the SCO members. Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj met in Wu Zhen, Zhejiang Province, on February 27. Wang told the media after the trilateral meeting that “as a mutual friend of India and Pakistan, we hope both sides will, through dialogue, find out the truth, control the situation, solve the problem and jointly well maintain regional peace and stability. The Chinese side is willing to play a constructive role in this regard.”
Pakistan is China’s old friend and Beijing-New Delhi bilateral ties are deepening. China will act as a mediator between India and Pakistan in the long term, hoping to accelerate the peace process between the feuding nations.
The author is head of the Institute for South and Central Asian at the Shanghai Institutes for International Studies.