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Maleeha Lodhi is a former Pakistani envoy to the US and UK.

India-Pak relations are at an all-time low

In the subcontinent’s volatile environment, there is urgent need for a new understanding between Pakistan and India.

Pakistani security personnel escort Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi (C), mastermind of the 2008 Mumbai attacks. Lakhvi waves to media representatives as he leaves court after a hearing in Islamabad on Thursday. Pakistan approached the country’s Supreme Court to sto

hile there are reasons to be upbeat about Pakistan-Afghan relations, unfortunately, similar optimism cannot be expressed about Pakistan-India relations. In fact, the advent of the Narendra Modi government has significantly compounded the challenges to this long troubled relationship.

Prime Minister Modi's inaugural outreach — inviting Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to his oath taking ceremony — proved to be a false dawn. Since then, Delhi has halted all dialogue with Pakistan, aggravated tensions across the Line of Control and "Working Boundary" and ratcheted up anti-Pakistan rhetoric.

This display of brinkmanship, has also been evidenced statements by India's Defence and Home Ministers warning of inflicting "pain" on Pakistan and giving it a "befitting reply".

The handshake at Kathmandu did nothing to change this. On the contrary, Prime Minister Modi's posture at the SAARC summit, and after, has reinforced the perception that India seeks to change the parameters of its engagement with Pakistan, particularly to take Kashmir off the negotiating table.

Islamabad, for its part, has made it abundantly clear it will not agree to any pre-conditions for the resumption of dialogue. Nor will it accept Kashmir being excluded from the bilateral agenda. If anything, Delhi's hardline posture has strengthened the consensus within Pakistan that this domineering approach must be rejected.

It does not take a sage to predict that if Prime Minister Modi tries to scrap Article 370 of the Indian Constitution, that accords special status to Jammu and Kashmir, and also moves towards trifurcation of the state into Jammu, Ladakh and Kashmir, this could provoke a strong reaction from the people of Kashmir, even spark another uprising. If that happens, and strong-arm tactics are used to deal with this, it will evoke a response from the Pakistani people and risk another major crisis between Pakistan and India, with all the attendant dangers.

India's hardened posture is not just being driven by the omnipresence of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) hardliners in the BJP government. It is also being encouraged, wittingly or otherwise, by some Western powers by their political pandering and the military supplies and nuclear and strategic cooperation being offered to India. India, now the world's largest arms importer, has sought to justify its build up by projecting this as designed to counter China's growing military capabilities. Yet, the bulk of India's military capabilities — land, air and sea — continue to be deployed against Pakistan.

India's arms build up obliges Pakistan to take appropriate measures to retain the ability to deter and, if need be, to respond to a possible Indian attack, including a surprise attack, as envisaged by its Cold Start doctrine. Obviously, Pakistan cannot match India's conventional arms expansion. Nor should it think of engaging in a conventional arms race with India. Its response will necessarily have to defensive and cost effective. The maintenance of Pakistan's ability to defend itself by conventional means is not only in the interest of Pakistan, but also a goal that should be desired by the international community. Without an adequate conventional balance, an Indo-Pakistan conflict could escalate very quickly to the dreaded nuclear level. The growing conventional asymmetry has obliged Pakistan to adopt the posture of Full Spectrum Deterrence, which includes the development of tactical nuclear weapons. Once India deploys Anti-Ballistic Missile systems, Pakistan will feel the need to multiply the number of its nuclear capable missiles to preserve credible deterrence.

A clear and present danger that remains largely unappreciated at the international level is this. In the subcontinent's volatile environment where a crisis can emerge quite quickly from a terrorist attack or another Kashmiri "spark" there is urgent need for a new understanding between Pakistan and India.

At present, there is no understanding on either force levels and deployments or doctrines that can prevent an escalatory spiral from spinning out of control. During the Cold War, the two principal nuclear protagonists found it necessary to have some understanding on these issues, backed by hotlines and other crisis-communication mechanisms.

Here, the two countries don't have the luxury of distance, so dialogue and mutual understanding is absolutely essential to clarify India and Pakistan's military and nuclear doctrines and build political and technical barriers to the eruption of conflict, by miscalculation or mistake.

It is irresponsible not to address these vital issues. It is also hard to understand why the international community has done little, if anything, to insist on and promote such an understanding.

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