The Indian airstrike in the Pakistani-controlled area of the disputed border region of Kashmir is believed to be in retaliation for a deadly terrorist attack in Indian-administered Kashmir in mid-February.
What makes this development especially alarming is that both sides are nuclear powers, and neither has signed the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons. It is crucial, therefore, that the two South Asian states overcome their deep-rooted mutual distrust to prevent matters from escalating.
The Feb. 14 suicide bombing killed over 40 Indian paramilitary police, in what was reportedly the deadliest terrorist incident in the region to date. Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM), a Pakistan-based Islamist militant group, claimed responsibility.
The Indian government, led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, initially responded by withdrawing the most-favored-nation trading status it had granted to Pakistan, saying it had "incontrovertible evidence" of Pakistani involvement. Then, on Feb. 26, India resorted to military action, carrying out an airstrike.
The rapid retaliation by the Modi government comes against the backdrop of an Indian general election slated to be held by the end of May. Modi no doubt wants to project the image of a strong leader to voters. After the terrorist attack, he publicly referred to the possibility of taking military action.
It is only natural that such an incident would spur Modi to want to reinforce India's public security. However, trying to exert control through the use of force may only serve to fuel resentment. In confronting terrorism in Kashmir, the key is to make steady long-term efforts to quell simmering discontent among the Muslims, who form the majority of the population there. India should also seek diplomatic solutions to its disputes with Pakistan.
The Pakistani government of Prime Minister Imran Khan has denied any involvement in the attack and angrily rebuked India's retaliatory steps. At the same time, Khan said he was ready to cooperate with an investigation into the attack if India shows actionable evidence of Pakistan's involvement. What the Khan government should do, first and foremost, is take resolute action against the JeM.
India has been calling for putting JeM founder and leader Masood Azhar on a United Nations list of global terrorists. Pakistan, meanwhile, has blocked India's bid with support from the Chinese leadership in Beijing.
Pakistan has come under criticism from not just India but also many other countries, including the U.S., for allegedly allowing extremist groups to operate within its borders. Islamabad must take concrete steps to dispel such international distrust.
To their credit, Modi and Khan have displayed a genuine openness to mending bilateral ties. The fact is, however, that repeated terrorist incidents in Kashmir are driving the neighbors further apart. As a first step toward a brighter future, the two sides need to rise above their mutual distrust and join hands to stop terrorism.