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India Pakistan Conflict De-escalation Mechanisms

India Pakistan Conflict De-escalation Mechanisms

Relevance:

  • GS 2 || International Relations || India & it’s Neighbors || Pakistan

Why in news?

  • India’s recent experience in dealing with the recent post-Pulwama Indo-Pak stand-off should encourage the two sides to urgently put in place dedicated bilateral conflict de-escalation mechanisms.

Communication

  • De-escalation: Talking to one’s adversary in the midst of a war, a limited war or even hostility is often viewed as undesirable in the public mind.
  • However, the lesson from the long history of warfare and India’s own experience in dealing with past crises is that talking to one’s adversaries is a crucial requirement for de-escalation and for bringing the two sides back from the brink.
  • Exit from tussle: Such talks are often done discreetly and soberly via the ‘back channel’, away from media attention and focussed on de-escalation, meeting the aims behind the war-talk and achieving an honourable exit from the tussle
  • During the Kargil conflict, on the other hand, politically appointed interlocutors had conducted discreet discussions on de-escalatory measures between the two sides.
  • This is also a lesson the two Cold War rivals had learnt, that they had to keep talking to each other through the worst years of their rivalry. .

Post Pulwama

  • After the Pulwama terror strike both sides found themselves in the midst of a military encounter. This was followed by a military stand-off that followed the Indian Air Force strikes on Balakot, in Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.
  • Going by the information that is currently available in open sourcesthere were hardly any pre-existing/dedicated channels of communication between the two countries; the ones that were in place were not put to use; and very little bilateral conversation actually took place to de-escalate the crisis. That should be of great concern to us.

Communication breakdown

  • No established mechanism: For the most part of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) -I and II governments, there was an established mechanism of backchannel conversations by special envoys appointed by the respective Prime Ministers. The current Bharatiya Janata Party-led government decided to discontinue that time-tested and useful practice.
  • The conversation at the Director General of Military Operations (DGMO) level, the highest military contact that currently exists between India and Pakistan and which has often played a de-escalatory role, was not activated during the crisis.
  • Unlike previous years, since Pakistan did not have a National Security Adviser (NSA) or an equivalent official, there were no NSA-level talks either. The two High Commissioners, unsurprisingly but disturbingly, were called back to their home countries for consultations. If anything, it is during crisis periods that envoys should stay put in their respective High Commissions to find ways of defusing tensions and relaying messages and options back to their governments. Curiously, India and Pakistan chose to do the exact opposite.

Risks

  • Serious conflict: In the absence of which the two nuclear-armed countries could potentially head towards an undesirable, inadvertent and unintended conflict with unpredictable outcomes.
  • Outsourcing crisis management to third parties with differing agendas and motives: Understandably, India might have chosen not to communicate with Pakistan for doing so would have taken away the political utility of the ‘teaching Pakistan a lesson’ rhetoric.
  • However, when the hostile parties do not talk to de-escalate, others tend to step in. February and early March witnessed a slew of efforts by third parties to ensure that India and Pakistan de-escalate from the nuclear brink. The Americans, Chinese, Russians, Saudis, Emiratis were all involved one way or another in defusing the tensions between the two countries.

Way forward

  • One of the biggest takeaways from the February crisis is the need to reinstate/re-establish high-level backchannel contacts with interlocutors in Pakistan, whether Islamabad or Rawalpindi.
  • This is a lesson from various India-Pakistan crises, be it the backchannel through the 1999 Kargil conflict and the 2001-2002 crisis, discreet negotiations between the two sides preceding the 2003 ceasefire agreement and the post-Mumbai escalation.

Mains question

  • India’s recent experience in dealing with the recent post-Pulwama Indo-Pak stand-off should encourage the two sides to urgently put in place dedicated bilateral conflict de-escalation mechanisms. Critically examine.