Going Global: The Balakot Airstrike
Why are India and Pakistan firing at each other?
Columns / March 2, 2019
For the first time since 1971, several aircraft from the Indian Air Force crossed into Kashmir late last month to perform airstrikes on a terrorist group in retaliation for a terror attack two weeks prior. Moments later, Pakistan responded by scrambling several of their own aircraft, causing the Indian aircraft to retreat.
In the ensuing days, Pakistan and India shelled each other near their border. The result of the Indian airstrike hasn’t been confirmed.
The conflict comes after a few weeks of tension which started when a terrorist killed 40 members of the Indian Central Reserve Police Force in Kashmir. This attack was claimed by Jaish-e-Mohammed, a jihadist terror group who seeks separation of Kashmir from India as one of its objectives.
The Indian perspective would likely be that they were conducting an airstrike on a terrorist camp that committed crimes against Indian security forces, while the Pakistani perspective would be that India violated the Line of Control to enter their airspace.
Many scholars believe that Jaish-e-Mohammed, the terror group responsible for the bombing in Pulwama, was formed partially with the help of the Pakistani intelligence services, but Pakistan vigorously denies these claims.
There are also currently points being made out of both India and Pakistan being nuclear powers. While this is certainly true, the chances of a nuclear exchange taking place is almost non-existent. For nation-states, the purpose of a nuclear weapon is deterrence, and while there was indeed an exchange of fire between India and Pakistan, it doesn’t yet constitute a war.
Currently, there’s plenty of indication that neither Pakistan nor India want to have a major conflict. In an apparent gesture of peace, the Prime Minister of Pakistan Imran Khan told his parliament that they would be releasing Indian pilot Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman, who was arrested after his plane was downed.
Those who are familiar in even a cursory sense with the history of post-partition India and Pakistan likely won’t be surprised to know that Kashmir is the center of another flashpoint.
During the partition of British India in 1947, Britain wasn’t sure what to do about Kashmir and Jammu. It ultimately concluded that there should be two regions for Muslims, West Pakistan and East Pakistan (which later became Bangladesh), and one large region for Hindus.
Putting aside all the damage this did, it left Kashmir as a question mark. The way Britain took control of India was by working out deals with the various states within the subcontinent, many of which were princely states. In the case of Kashmir, Maharaja Hari Singh wanted the region to remain neutral after partition. However, a Pakistan-supported uprising in 1947 put an end to this when Hari Singh sought the help of the Indian military to quell violence. The cost: signing an Instrument of Ascension, making Kashmir part of India.
In the more recent past, Pakistan has been accused by many states and NGOs of being a state sponsor of terror, or at least having a poor handle on its domestic issues. These accusations have come from Afghanistan, India, the U.K., the U.S., and to some degree, the United Nations. It also doesn’t help matters that a former Prime Minister of Pakistan has said that Pakistan has indeed supported terrorists in the 1990s, such as Lashkar-e-Taiba and their actions in Kashmir.
None of this is to say that India has never done anything similar. Though there is less data, British intelligence has suggested through leaked documents that they believe that India does on occasion support terror groups in Pakistan, namely in 2008 in response to terror attacks in Mumbai.
There’s a long history of tension between India and Pakistan over Kashmir, and unfortunately tensions are likely to remain high for some time. However, it’s seeming more likely that given the gestures of the Pakistani PM, and the willingness of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to avoid a war, there’s a high probability that the region will eventually cool down.