Elections Amidst War Hysteria

In a press conference held at Multan on 7th of April Pakistan’s foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi made a startling statement that India is planning ‘more aggression and attacks on Pakistan in the 3rd week of April’. Qureshi stressed that there is strong evidence that India is planning a new wave of attacks on Pakistani soil and it may be within Pakistan administrated Kashmir or deep in mainland Pakistan. There may be a sequel of Pulwama like attack in Kashmir Valley followed by Indian strike on the Pakistan soil, he hinted at. However India’s foreign ministry immediately called this statement as irresponsible and accused Pakistan of creating war hysteria. 

Earlier Foreign Policy, a leading US magazine, rejected India’s claim of shooting down F-16 aircraft in a dogfight on 27th of February. The journal claimed that it interviewed two US defence officials and both confirmed that all the F-16 aircraft were present and accounted for, which is in direct contradiction to India’s claim of shooting down the one. Very next day Pentagon said that it was not aware of any count of F-16 by the US officials thus creating more ambiguity in the air. The State Department made it clear that they do not publicly comment on government to government agreements especially related to defence. On the same day ISPR of Pak Army released images of all four missile seeker heads from debris including two R-77 Adder and two R-73 Archer, recovered intact from Mig-21 which wing commander Abhinandan was flying and which India claims to have shot down F-16. On 8th April Indian Air Force held a press conference releasing radar images of February 27 dogfight and claimed to have more irrefutable evidence of shooting down F-16.

After the February 27 dogfight between PAF and IAF, the battle between India and Pakistan has more taken the shape of information warfare. Each side claiming to have wrecked heavy losses on the other. 

According to Indian defence analyst Ajay Shukla Pakistan won the perception war after February 27. An army colonel turned journalist Shukla wrote this on Al Jazeera online.  Whereas a report in Indian web portal Scroll.in also revealed that Imran Khan stumped Narendra Modi in perception battle over air strikes. As India is in the midst of a multi-phase parliamentary elections which commenced from 11th of April and ruling BJP is under strain as it is widely believed that the rightwing party has high stakes in whipping up war hysteria and nationalistic fervour in order to deflect attention from unfulfilled promises made ahead of 2014 elections. Surgical strike and Balakote air strike although may have provided a base for whipping up nationalistic fervour, but subsequently not being able to  prove tall claims of success made in any of these strikes may have chances of backfiring. Many international analysts also believe that Modi Government may whip up nationalist frenzy further against Pakistan keeping in view the high stakes in elections. 

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Recently a top expert with the Chinese defence forces  Professor Jin Yanan from the national defence university claimed that Indian air force lost its image badly as the feature of air warfare is, “a single aircraft and a single pilot can determine the result of an air battle”. As India only is providing circumstantial evidences of shooting down F-16 were as Pakistan in addition to shooting down Mig fighter jet also claims to have shot India’s advanced fighter aircraft Sukhoi-30. BJP government has been under tremendous pressure to prove its claims about aerial skirmishes on February 27 and killings in Balakote.

Michael Kugelman, an analyst of US based think tank, Woodrow Wilson Centre warned of the readiness of both India and  Pakistan to climb up the escalation ladder in a short span of time. Pertinent to mention is Kugleman’s warning about the harmful implications of India’s inability to prove its claims post Balakote strike and it may have deleterious political implications just days before election. He also warned that Indian PM may have something he will use right before or during the elections. Documents of Woodrow Wilson reveal that chances of another flare up between India and Pakistan are high. Third  and 4th week of April marks 2nd, 3rd and 4th phases of Indian elections in which there is voting on some 300 seats, so the timing mentioned by Qureshi shows a link between elections and escalation.

“Modi has radically changed India’s security doctrine to better reflect his angry, aggressive nationalism. Further escalation with Pakistan is not a matter of if, but when”, wrote Khinvraj Jangid in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz.

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With some 1.7 billion population in subcontinent mostly poor and underprivileged the two nations can’t afford a war especially when both possess dreaded nuclear weapons. International community needs to play its part in de-escalating the situation and at the same time convincing both India and Pakistan to resolve all the outstanding issues ,especially Kashmir dispute through dialogue. Democracies are a hope for peaceful world, let the means to elect democratic governments doesn’t become a reason for war.

 

 

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