Friction between India and Pakistan, the two South Asian neighbors, escalated after the Feb. 14 suicide attack that killed more than 40 Indian paramilitary officers in the Pulwama area of India-controlled Kashmir.
Kashmir, a mountainous Himalayan region, has been divided by India and Pakistan since their independence from the British rule in 1947. But both countries claim its sovereignty entirely.
With the coming general elections and Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s intention to get a second term, the Indian Government’s outrage and iron-handed attitude over the heavy casualties in the suicide bombing were understandable. India accused Pakistan of having a “direct hand” behind the scenes. Despite the fact that Pakistan denied any involvement in the suicide attack, their tension escalated on Feb. 26 as India launched an airstrike on what it said was a militant training base of the Jaish-e-Mohammad group, who claimed responsibility for the attack, hitting inside Pakistan for the first time since the Indo-Pakistani War in 1971.
Both sides claimed to have shot down each other’s fighter jets and Pakistan captured at least one Indian pilot named Abhinandan Varthaman. The Indian wing commander’s jet was shot down on Feb. 27 after a dogfight in the skies over the disputed region.
The capture of an Indian pilot brought tensions between the two neighbors to the highest level in recent years and alarmed world powers such as China and the United States to issue calls for restraint. On March 1, Pakistani officials brought the Indian pilot to the border crossing in its eastern city of Lahore for handover, a peace gesture aimed at defusing tension.
As we all know, a stable South Asia is in line with the interests of Indian and Pakistani people and even Asia as a whole. Facts have proved that skirmishes or large-scale conflicts cannot bring benefits to either country or settle any current dispute for them, but will bring casualties and economic losses to both sides. Escalating tension has not only hurt their bilateral ties, but also hindered the development of the region and even the peace process in Afghanistan. According to the Pakistani Government, surging tension even prompted the country to close its airspace, disrupting major air routes between Europe and South Asia and leaving thousands of travelers worldwide stranded.
Frankly speaking, as an important regional intergovernmental alliance, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) should and can do more to cool the Indo-Pakistani conflict. Leaders of China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan announced the creation of the SCO on June 15, 2001 in Shanghai. The organization expanded its membership to eight countries when India and Pakistan both joined as full members at the summit in Astana, Kazakhstan on June 9, 2017.
Mutual trust, mutual benefit, equality, peaceful consultation, respect for cultural diversity, and aspiration for common and sustainable development are the guiding principles of the SCO. Since India and Pakistan have already been members of the organization, they should fully respect and abide by these principles, avoid miscalculations and use diplomatic dialogues to resolve their disputes. Other influential members within the organization such as China and Russia can also encourage the two conflicting sides to meet each other halfway, take substantive steps toward the settlement of the territorial dispute and jointly safeguard regional peace and stability.
With its member states covering one-fourth of the world’s land mass and being home to the bulk of the world’s population, the SCO has turned out to be an active participator and promoter of multilateral cooperation and global relations. However, the organization is also facing challenges from the complex geopolitical situation and volatile international environment. Especially in the Eurasian continent, a wide range of hotspot issues are heading up here and there. Under these circumstances, only by beefing up its mediating capacities can the SCO consolidate its influence on the global stage and play a more prominent role in shaping international politics and governance affairs.
(The author is the editor-in-chief of the Shenzhen Daily with a Ph.D. from the Journalism and Communication School of Wuhan University.)