Peace in Asia: Who benefits from military escalation in Pakistan, India

by Caesar D’Mello
Pax Christi Asia-Pacific Network

On the very day that Indian fighter jets were reportedly pounding the Islamist Jaish-e-Muhammad (JeM) base in the state of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, just one hundred kilometres from Rawalpindi, Pakistan’s capital, a group of us was visiting Gandhi Smriti in Delhi where Mahatma Gandhi, acclaimed the Father of India, was killed. A series of sculpted slippers reconstructs his brief last walk that was suddenly ended by an assassin on 30 January,1948. Gandhi, an ardent advocate of nonviolence, was broken when he saw his dream of a united and peaceful India, for which he had laboured most of his life, abandoned when the British partitioned Greater India in August 1947 into the two nations of India and Pakistan, as we know them today.

Gandhi paid the ultimate price for his active commitment to unity between Hindus and Muslims that was virulently opposed by some. That antagonism still underlies India-Pakistan relations, the aereal bombing of 26 February, 2019 being its latest expression. The hostility of the last seven decades is rooted in the decision by Hari Singh, the Maharaja, to cede Kashmir, a state with a Muslim majority, to India.

Much suffering and death have ensued ever since. There have been umpteen skirmishes, and major wars in 1948, 1965, 1971, 1999 and 2004. There has also been  recurring terrorist action led by various Pakistan-based militant groups to ‘liberate’ Kashmir from India, the most brazen being the incursion in Mumbai in November 2008 when after three days of mayhem 166 Indians lay dead with many more injured.

The bombing of the training base was triggered by a militant act on 14 February, 2019 for which JeM claimed responsibility. It appears its motivation was to be a springboard for another chapter in the conflict between India and Pakistan. An Indian military convoy was targeted in a suicide bombing in Pulwama in Indian-occupied Kashmir that took the lives of 42 Indian soldiers. India’s claims of destroying the JeM site and killing many cadres was disputed by Pakistan which, in a tit for tat response, bombed what it claims were ‘non-civilian targets’ in India. So the stalemate remains.

Who benefits? What learning has arisen from the hostilities?

Thankfully, tensions have now subsided up to a point. Nevertheless, it is incumbent on the nations’ leaders, and others of goodwill, to reflect on the recent events. What has been learned, especially if the status quo ante remains mostly unchanged, poised to blow up another day?  Sadly, historic conflicts are not unique. Kashmir is one that  keeps festering. While it is wise to study the root causes of any conflict, leaving the two combatants trapped in a downward spiral of mutual hatred and periodic reciprocal violence is not. To enjoy the fruits of lasting peace, Pax Christi Asia-Pacific believes that rather than persist on the path of instinctively responding in kind, it is an urgent responsibility of all concerned to find a sustainable way out of the endless impasse.

Many dimensions of the recent eruption were most unhelpful. Those living in areas bordering the Line of Control in divided Kashmir suffered greatly. The fearful sight of noisy air force jets hovering above notwithstanding, lives were disrupted. The majority, being farmers, were deeply anguished over losing homes, crops and livelihoods. Relocating to safer places meant spending limited resources on rents and other costs. The wider community, too, was tense, as evidenced by the appeal by Sunila Ruth, a Christian member of Pakistan’s National Assembly, to Pope Francis to support ‘dialogue and negotiation’ to help end the conflict. Christians and many others took part in public vigils declaring, ‘War is not the answer’.

The Prime Minister of Pakistan, Imran Khan, articulated what appeared to be a face-saving way out for both countries when he asked, “With the weapons you have and the weapons we have, can we really afford a miscalculation”?  Acknowledging ‘the hurt that has been caused due to the Pulwama attack’, he said, “we should sit and settle this with talks”. A captured Indian pilot was returned to the Indian authorities.  Had there been reciprocity from the Indian side, the situation would have been diffused earlier, while spurring a dialogue focused on security, Kashmir, and meaningful ways to counter and frustrate  militant groups. Instead, the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi maintained an aggressive stance, having earlier promised ‘a jaw-breaking response’. This fueled a nationalistic public mood in sections of the country believing their war as ‘just’, and demanding ‘a swift and appropriate reply’.

At the height of the conflict war hysteria was at its peak in both countries. Pakistan’s public and social media were awash with anti-India belligerent messages. Combative  sections of the Indian media endorsed actions such as removing the pictures of Pakistani cricketers from view, Indian cricketers using caps with military fatigue designs, airlines issuing boarding passes displaying the Indian flag, and so on. One can wonder if such an environment was exploited for the national elections.

A high level of military preparedness over the years, and the sort of expenditure involved in the latest military engagement entail allocating increasing proportions of precious resources to military arsenals and sophisticated conventional and nuclear weaponry. The known defence expenditure by India is in the order of $60 billion a year! While military needs are met, the basic needs of vast sections of both countries’ populations are not. As Archbishop Sebastian Shaw of Lahore said, “Escalating defence budget should instead be diverted to develop people”.

Peace is too precious and basic a human right to be reduced to a zero sum game run on mutually retaliatory actions. History has shown the role of asymmetrical approaches in achieving peace when magnanimity or a greater give and take become a circuit breaker. Every chance should be seized, even if in the past any attempts were thwarted, including by non-state actors who should be brought to heel. Realising long lasting peace by negotiations is preferable to living in a constant cycle of violence and the shadow of a nuclear threat. It is crucial that ways forward discussed are realistic and based on justice, and serious attempts made by both sides to tone down the war rhetoric. The relatively new government of Pakistan and the Indian government that emerges from the elections provide a new opportunity ‘to give peace a chance’, in the spirit of Mahatma Gandhi who denounced ‘politics without principle’. Pax Christi Asia-Pacific is convinced that “diplomacy and other peaceable ways…will serve…not only the peoples of India and Pakistan but also…of Asia-Pacific and beyond”.

Caesar D’Mello is a member of Pax Christi Australia, and a consultant on Global South ‘development’, climate change and peace concerns.

Our Stories

OUR STORY: Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace of Pakistan

This is the second installment of a regular feature on the Peace Stories blog featuring the stories of our 120 member organisations on five continents around the world. For February 2017, we’re getting to know the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace, our member organisation in Pakistan. This interview was conducted by Marie Just, Pax Christi International communications intern, with Cecil Chaudhry. Mr. Chaudhry is the Executive Director of the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace.


Marie Just: When and how did CCJP start? Was there some particular event or issue that served to bring CCJP into being?

peaceaward2016Cecil Chaudhry: CCJP was formed in 1985. This was one year after the then-Government of Pakistan had introduced the blasphemy laws and its severe penalties. In my view, the Commission as envisioned by the founder, the late Dr. John Joseph, Bishop of Faisalabad, was formed as he saw because these laws would give rise to many issues in the future toward the religious minorities. Thus CCJP started on work to address the issues of discrimination which had started in the 1980s.

MJ: What is the structure and who are the people involved in CCJP?

CC: CCJP is governed by the Pakistan Catholic Bishops’ Conference. It is comprised of the Chairperson, His Excellency, Dr. Joseph Arshad, Bishop of Faisalabad. Under the Chair is an Executive Board followed by the National Director, Fr. Emmanuel Yousaf (Mani), and then the Executive Director (Myself). CCJP has a National Office in Lahore and 7 diocesan offices in each of the Catholic dioceses of Pakistan. Each project or programme initiating from the national office has a programme coordinator who is assisted by a programme organiser. The diocesan offices are headed by a diocesan director (priest/clergy-person) along with one diocesan coordinator and field staff officer at each diocesan office. Furthermore CCJP engages with and relies on information from 300+ activists across Pakistan that get regular training from CCJP on “Human Rights and Reporting”.

MJ: What are the current issues you are working on, or what are your major priorities?

CC: Currently CCJP focuses on three thematic areas:

  • Discriminatory Laws (Blasphemy Laws and Other)
  • Biased Education Curriculum and Policies
  • Freedom of Religion Or Belief (Personal Laws and Curbing Forced Conversion)

MJ: How is CCJP putting nonviolence into practice? What role does nonviolence play in your work?

CC: CCJP has always practised restraint and promotes a culture of peace which is also advocated in all its activities. Nonviolence plays an extremely important role in our work and approach. We realise that no problem can be solved without peace and a mutual dialogue. That is why CCJP strongly opposes all such forms of violence whether in its work strategy or even through its staff members.

MJ: What is the greatest accomplishment of CCJP during your history?

CC: During my time here at CCJP, I think the greatest accomplishment was to see how we, through our efforts of advocacy, were able to reverse the decision of the government in posting a job advertisement that clearly discriminated towards the religious minority. While there have been many more important instances, however, the promptness of the response from the government in this regard was encouraging to see how our work is valued by the government too.

MJ: Is there any story about CCJP that stands out for you?

CC: There are many stories to share. However for me seeing the gradual change in the curriculum in order to promote a unbiased education system holds a special place in my heart. Probably because I also have studied such biased material in my school days thus now that I am a father this issue and the success however small it may be is very important and dear to me. It was a joy to see that after 20+ years the government has finally brought back chapters on the role of religious minorities into the School textbooks, something that’d been removed in the 1980s and 90s.