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Hashtags for War Between India and Pakistan

Pakistan and India, two nuclear armed states, have fought many wars since our partition in 1947. Our militaries have faced off in 1947, 1965, 1971 and 1999. Between those wars, there have been numerous skirmishes, cross-border strikes and accusations of covert support for terrorism.

I have never seen my country at peace with its neighbor. But never before have I seen a war played out between two nuclear-armed states with Twitter accounts.

On Feb. 14, a suicide bomber hit a convoy of paramilitary forces in Indian-controlled Kashmir. Jaish-e-Muhammad, a militant group based in Pakistan, claimed responsibility for the attack. India accused Pakistan of orchestrating the bombing. Pakistan denied the allegation and maintained that it would act on intelligence shared but that none had been given.

On Tuesday, India flew fighter planes across Pakistani territory, engaging the Indian and Pakistani Air Forces in dogfights for the first time since 1971. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government, up for re-election in two months time, claimed to have hit a terrorist training camp in the Balakot area in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province in northwestern Pakistan, killing 300 militants. Pakistan’s military spokesman, Maj. Gen. Asif Ghafoor, denied the claims, saying that Indian war planes dropped their payloads without causing any casualties or damage to infrastructure.

On social media, Indian journalists celebrated the strike with glee; Bollywood stars who have only play-acted in wars sent their Twitter congratulations: “mess with the best, die like the rest,” tweeted Ajay Devgn. “What an explosive morning!” Raveena Tandon cheered. Kangana Ranaut, promoting a film, weighed in that barring Pakistani artists from Bollywood “is not the focus, Pakistan destruction is,” and any voices calling for peace and restraint were immediately labeled traitors. Hashtags were thrown in the air like confetti: #indiastrikesback, #terroristanpakistan, #pakapologist.

In Pakistan, for once, there was more sober reflection. While some called for revenge, many Pakistanis, myself included, refused to cheerlead for war. There were, of course, odd voices in between. Hamid Mir, a Pakistani journalist, visited the village of Jabba in the Balakot area the next day and standing in a lush, leafy forest reported that there was no infrastructural damage visible, no funerals, no blood and no bodies. He then corrected himself, and pointed to a dead black crow.

Today we stand on the precipice of further violence and escalation. Pakistan claims to have shot down two Indian jets that flew over its airspace, and says it had one Indian Air Force pilot in custody. Right-wing trolls who proliferate across the border quickly trended #pakfakeclaim before the Indian government confirmed the pilot’s capture.

While some Pakistani commentators rushed to match their Indian counterparts’ gloating — #Pakistanstrikesback (no points for originality) — and shared video clips of cheering and slogan-shouting, many of us continue to refuse to hashtag our country down the path of nuclear war.

Pakistan’s recent history has been bloody, and no one has suffered that violence more than its own citizens. But our long history with military dictatorships and experience of terrorism and uncertainty means that my generation of Pakistanis have no tolerance, no appetite, for jingoism or war. In the afternoon, #saynotowar began to trend in Pakistan, before hitting the worldwide No. 1 spot on Twitter.

Even Prime Minister Imran Khan, of whom I have long been a vocal critic, surprised me when he appeared on television in the afternoon and called for peace. “My question to the Indian government is that with the weapons we both have, can we afford a miscalculation? If it escalates, where will it go?” Mr. Khan asked. It is the only moral stand that either country can take.

Both India and Pakistan have a duty to maintain that profoundly moral stand at a time when hysteria is at a high. A 2007 report written by a co-founder of the antinuclear organization Physicians for Social Responsibility found that a nuclear war between India and Pakistan could result in the deaths of one billion to two billion people around the world from starvation and disease.

I and many other young Pakistanis have called upon our country to release the captured Indian pilot as a gesture of our commitment to peace, humanity and dignity. We have spent a lifetime at war. I do not want to see Pakistani soldiers die. I do not want to see Indian soldiers die. We cannot be a subcontinent of orphans.

My generation of Pakistanis have fought for the right to speak, and we are not afraid to lend our voices to that most righteous cause: peace.

This piece was originally pubished in The New York Times