Indian soldiers examine the debris after an explosion in Lethpora in south Kashmir's Pulwama district February 14, 2019. Image Credit: Reuters

With India launching “non-military pre-emptive strikes” in the area of Balakot in Pakistan yesterday, the simmering tension between the two countries has ratcheted up. Since the Pulwama terror attack on February 14 in Indian-administered Kashmir, which killed more than 40 personnel of India’s Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) and was claimed by Pakistan-based militant organisation Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM), sentiments have run high on both sides of the border. India’s action on Balakot, said to be the largest JeM training camp, has now intensified talk of a potential armed conflict between the two countries.

With sources in India referring to 300 militants killed in the strike, and Pakistan saying there were no casualties, hawkish sentiments are finding this an opportune moment to call for an escalation of the matter, but the need of the hour for both countries is restraint. India and Pakistan must use this opportunity to take a step back, review the deteriorating state of their ties and move forward with renewed commitment to fostering dialogue and ending the impasse — at the highest level. The emphasis on the latter cannot be overstated. Through their chequered history of seven decades, the two countries have worked through varying levels of diplomatic channels to keep the dialogue going, but there comes a time in bilateralism when history calls upon the leaders of the countries to step up and seek a breakthrough — not just for the sake of their countries, but also for the larger good of the region. Now is that time.

The long-standing issues of terrorism and cross-border skirmishes that have blighted India-Pakistan ties, particularly over the last few years, need to be tackled at the grass-roots level with an urgency that must supersede the escalating rhetoric. Both countries must seek ways to end the violence and animosity, and dismantle the apparatus of terrorism through mutual cooperation and dialogue.

This is the most pressing priority that confronts these neighbours and its significance must not be allowed to be diminished by settling scores from time to time. That route, as history has shown, has been a path of no return. No one understands the need to throw away the shackles of the past and move into a new era of progress better than India and Pakistan. With a shared history, both countries are eminently capable of collaborating in writing a new chapter of regional coexistence. It is time they got down to the task.