By Robin Gomes
The Catholic bishops of India and Pakistan are appealing for peace and dialogue as tensions and armed exchanges between the two nuclear-armed neighbours escalate.
"We pray and work for peace between India and Pakistan. We call on the rulers to choose the path of dialogue, the situation today is very delicate and we must not make false or hurried steps,” said Indian Cardinal Oswald Gracias Archbishop of Bombay.
“We condemn any act of terrorism against Indian forces. But we say 'no' to any war option: we must work for a peaceful solution, in favour of South Asia and will be meaningful for the whole world," Card. Gracias, the president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI), told the Vatican’s Fides news agency.
Tensions between the south-Asian neighbours have surged dramatically since a suicide car bomb attack by the Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammed Islamist militant group on Feb. 14 in India-administered Kashmir that killed at least 40 Indian paramilitary police.
India launched an air raid against militants in Pakistani territory on Feb 26, saying it had intelligence that Jaish was planning more attacks.
The following day both India and Pakistan said they shot down each other's fighter jets, with Pakistan capturing an Indian pilot.
Pakistani Archbishop Joseph Arshad, the Bishop of Islamabad-Rawalpindi urged leaders of both nations “to resume peace talks and resolve all issues through dialogue”.
"The people of Pakistan and India want peace," the archbishop, the president of the Pakistan Catholic Bishops' Conference (PCBC), told AsiaNews.
The Indian retaliatory air strike near the town of Balakot, some 50 kilometres from the Indo-Pakistani border was the deepest cross-border raid launched by India since the last of its three wars with Pakistan in 1971, with world powers urging restraint.
Arch. Arshad urged the international community to help diffuse the situation that is leading to loss of life and the ruin of the region.
Despite difficulties, he said that everyone should seek every possible path to avoid war, which, he said, always lead to sorrow and grave consequences for all. He urged for prayers that the Almighty God grant wisdom to the leaders of the nations to resolve their differences so that peace and prosperity may prevail, leading to a better future for the people of the region and in the world.
Pakistan's prime minister, Imran Khan, pledged on Thursday his country would release a captured Indian fighter pilot, a move that could help defuse the most serious confrontation in two decades between the rival nations.
Fresh fighting was reported on Thursday along the so-called Line of Control that divides disputed Kashmir between the two rivals. India's army says Pakistani soldiers are targeting nearly two dozen Indian forward points with mortar and gunfire.
India accuses Pakistan of allowing militant groups to operate on its territory and says Pakistani security agencies played a role in the attack on the Indian paramilitary police. Pakistan denies it provides safe haven to militants.
In December 2001, Jaish fighters, along with members of another Pakistan-based militant group, Lashkar-e-Taiba, launched an attack on India's parliament, which almost led to a fourth war.
Kashmir is a Muslim-majority region at the heart of decades of hostility between India and Pakistan. The neighbours both rule parts of the region while claiming the entire territory as theirs.