After attack, Pak-India tensions set to keep rising

                                                                                                      <p>By Aamir Latif and Shuriah Niazi</p>  <p>KARACHI, Pakistan / NEW DELHI, India (AA) - Rising tensions between Pakistan and India after last week’s deadly attack in Kashmir could get even worse as India’s ruling party stokes nationalist sentiment to woo voters in upcoming polls, local analysts say.</p>  <p>“The ongoing tensions will continue at least until general elections” this April and May, Farooq Moin, a Karachi-based political commentator, told Anadolu Agency, predicting “further escalation as the ruling Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP) will try to take fullest advantage of anti-Pakistan euphoria.”</p>  <p>Tensions between the two nuclear-armed neighbors mounted last week after a suicide bombing on an army convoy killed over 40 Indian troops, the deadliest single assault on its forces in three decades in Jammu and Kashmir, the Indian-administered section of the disputed region.</p>  <p>New Delhi blames Pakistan for the attack -- charges Islamabad denies -- while banned Pakistan-based militant group Jaish-e-Mohammad claimed responsibility.</p>  <p> </p>    <p>-Wooing conservative Hindu votes</p>  <p>Nationalist Prime Minister Narendra Modi has assured the public that India’s security forces are capable of acting firmly against militants as well as Pakistan, and some observers believe support for Modi will rise if he is seen as “teaching Pakistan a lesson.”</p>  <p>“The BJP and other nationalist parties think that the ongoing situation suits them to gather the support of conservative Hindus. Therefore, they will continue to pursue that,” argued Moin.</p>  <p>But he also sees the gambit as unlikely to work, saying: “My prediction is that the number of BJP seats will fall despite the war-mongering because it has failed to deliver on the domestic front.” </p>  <p>Kamal Hyder, an Islamabad-based political and security analyst, voiced similar views.</p>  <p>“The escalation is unlikely to cease in the near future,” Hyder told Anadolu Agency, because “if Modi tones down, he will lose points [from nationalists] in the elections.”</p>  <p>“Stakes are high, the situation is serious, and we should take it seriously,” he added.</p>  <p>But Hyder said he believes the international community may well step in soon to defuse the tensions.</p>  <p>“Let’s hope for the best as both sides have limited options,” he said, alluding to both countries’ deadly nuclear capability.</p>  <p>Shiv Sena, an Indian far-right regional political party based in Maharashtra, has criticized the BJP for using the attack as campaign fodder. </p>  <p>Although the two parties have announced that they will contest the upcoming national polls together, an editorial by Saamana daily, a Shiv Sena mouthpiece, said that the BJP using the thirst for revenge to woo votes is like using soldiers’ deaths for political advantage.</p>  <p> Instead, said the editorial, the BJP needs to answer why in four-and-a-half years in power it has not resolved the Kashmir issue.</p>  <p>Dinesh Gundu Rao, a senior leader of the Congress party in the southern state of Karnataka, made similar allegations. Rao said that following a 2016 attack in Uri, Kashmir which killed 16 Indian soldiers, the Modi government conducted one surgical strike against Pakistan, and the BJP used this for political gain.</p>  <p>“The question here is whether terrorism stopped after that surgical strike. No political party must try to gain political mileage from issues concerning the country's military,&quot; he said.</p>  <p> But with rising feeling of patriotism after the terror incident, the BJP is likely to leave no stone unturned to use the incident to its advantage in the runup to the polls.</p>  <p> </p>  <p>- Disputed region</p>  <p>Rising bilateral tensions were further fueled by a verbal war on social media involving politicians, former army officers, culture figures, and actors.</p>  <p>An irate New Delhi also withdrew Most Favored Nation (MFN) status from Islamabad, imposing a 200 percent duty on its imports.</p>  <p>Balbir Bajaj, head of the Indo-Foreign Chamber of Commerce, said: “It was a good step, but the goods are likely to be diverted and smuggled to India through another route.”</p>  <p>The Indian government must take action to ensure that goods from Pakistan are not smuggled into India, he said.</p>  <p>India has also suspended a key bus service that connects the Indian- and Pakistani-controlled parts of the Himalayan valley of Kashmir.</p>  <p>The two longtime rivals are locked in a string of land and sea disputes, mainly involving the disputed Kashmir region.</p>  <p>Since the Uri attack in September 2016 on an Indian army camp in Jammu and Kashmir, the sides have engaged in frequent border clashes along the Kashmir border which altogether have claimed over 200 military and civilian casualties. </p>  <p>Kashmir, a Muslim-majority Himalayan region, is held by India and Pakistan in parts and claimed by both in full. A small sliver of Kashmir is also held by China.</p>  <p>Since they were partitioned in 1947, India and Pakistan have fought three wars -- in 1948, 1965, and 1971 -- two of them over Kashmir. Kashmiri resistance groups in Jammu and Kashmir have been fighting against Indian rule for independence, or for unification with neighboring Pakistan.</p>  <p>Widely quoted estimates for the number of people killed in the conflict since 1989 go as high as 70,000, but other calculations based on Indian government data are far smaller, at about 41,000. India maintains a large military presence in the disputed region.</p>  <p> </p>    <p>-No ordinary tension</p>  <p>The current bilateral tension is not like the usual diplomatic rows, oft-seen over the years, said Moin. </p>  <p>“This time it’s very serious. Therefore, the international community, especially the permanent UN Security Council members, must intervene, and facilitate New Delhi and Islamabad restoring long-stalled peace talks.” </p>  <p>He added: “The two sides have no other option but to sit together and discuss all simmering disputes, including Kashmir, and counter-terrorism.”</p>  <p> </p>    <p>-Cricket and cinema</p>  <p>Politics is not the only victim of the Pakistan-India rivalry. Cricket, the cinema industry, and even prisoners are paying the price for the rising tensions.</p>  <p>Shoukat Ali, a Pakistani prisoner languishing in a Jaipur jail for illegally crossing into India, was beaten to death by inmates in retaliation for the attack in Kashmir, according to the Times of India. India officials denied the claim -- saying he died in a non-political scuffle -- while Pakistan urged India to ensure the safety of Pakistani prisoners.</p>  <p>Bowing to nationalist pressure, several famous music and film companies have scrapped their contracts with Pakistani singers and actors.</p>  <p>The All Indian Cine Workers Association (AICWA) has imposed a total ban on Pakistani actors in the country. </p>  <p>“We will take firm action against anyone who teams up with artists from Pakistan. We shall ban any organization adamant on working with Pakistani artists,” said Ronak Suresh Jain, the group’s general secretary.</p>  <p>Jain said the AICWA denounces the Kashmir terrorist attack and stands with the nation in dealing with such terror and brutality, explaining: “The nation comes first, we stand with our nation.” </p>  <p>Ashoke Pandit, head of the Indian Film and Television Directors' Association, said Pakistani performing artists would be completely banned in India. </p>  <p>“No Bollywood filmmaker will be allowed to use any Pakistani artist in his film, and music companies won’t collaborate with Pakistani singers,” he said.</p>  <p>Last October Pakistan, for its part, already banned broadcasts of Indian TV content.</p>  <p>Indian films will also not be released in Pakistan, including expected hits such as the upcoming Total Dhamaal.</p>  <p>As for sports, portraits of Pakistan’s cricketer-turned Prime Minister Imran Khan and other famous players have been removed from the Cricket Club of India in protest of the Kashmir attack.</p>  <p>Moreover, several Indian cricketers have called for pulling out of a match against Pakistan in the World Cup this June in England. “There is no need for any relations with Pakistan, let alone cricket,” said Harbhajan Singh, a former Indian cricketer.</p>  <p>According to organizers, over 400,000 people have applied to grab one of the 25,000 seats available for the match.</p>  <p>Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS), a nationalist far-right Indian political party based in the state of Maharashtra, has also asked music companies to remove songs by Pakistani singers and not work with them in the future. </p>  <p>Amey Khopkar, leader of the MNS in the commercial capital Mumbai, said: “Leading music company T-Series had already removed Pakistani artists’ videos from their various channels and will ban them all in the future.”</p>  <p>Other music companies will follow suit, he said.</p>