Terrorists, dogfights and potential for nuclear war – here’s the latest on what’s going on between India and Pakistan.
While Trump and Kim Jong Un spent last week trying to figure out how to not blow each other up, India and Pakistan were entertaining the thought of doing just that. For the first time since the two formally went to war in 1971, Indian and Pakistani forces briefly clashed, bringing the two nuclear powers closer to conflict than ever.
So, how did this all start? On Feb. 14, a suicide bomber attacked a group of Indian personnel in Indian-controlled Kashmir (Kashmir is divided between Pakistan and India, both of whom claim the entire territory). The attack killed 40 people, and shortly after, the Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Muhammed (JeM) claimed responsibility for the attack.
Indian prime minister, Narendra Modi, began demanding the Pakistani government crackdown on the terrorist groups operating in their territory, and Pakistan’s response was pretty typical to how they answer most of India’s demands, which is something pretty akin to, ‘Don’t tell us what to do.’ Outraged, Modi decided to take matters into his own hands, and on Feb. 25, the Indian Air Force scrambled 12 Mirage 2000 fighter jets into Pakistan to attack a JeM training camp, and this is where things start getting complicated.
Various news outlets have been changing their stories as India and Pakistan change theirs, but here’s what we think we know right now. The official Indian statement is that the airstrikes were successful and killed between 300 and 350 militants. Pakistan, however, claims that they successfully deterred the attack by scrambling their own F-16s and India’s bombs caught nothin’ but trees. Latest satellite imagery favors Pakistan’s side, but India’s stuck by their guns (Modi seeking reelection in May might have something to do with that).
Regardless of what happened, we do know that at least one Indian fighter was shot down, and the pilot, Wing Commander Abhinandran Varthaman, was captured and returned home on March 1. With Pakistan seemingly winning the military and the PR battle, Pakistani prime minister, Imran Khan, is feeling pretty confident. He’s successfully positioned himself as the strong-yet-fair leader on the subcontinent, as opposed to Modi, who rashly violated Pakistan’s territory in an unsuccessful operation.
But, Trump and Modi aren’t letting him off the hook that easily. In addition to cutting $1.3 billion in military assistance to Pakistan, Trump took a bold position and demanded “Sustained and irreversible” action from Pakistan. Under international pressure, Khan has promised to crack down on Islamist elements operating in the country.
Now, before you get too excited, Pakistan has made these types of promises before, and has often found ways around keeping them. JeM has been “banned” from Pakistan for some time now, yet Pakistan has often used them as a proxy force in Kashmir. Pakistan has allowed them to operate within certain parameters, and Pakistan is widely suspected of providing them with weapons, training and intelligence.
However, Pakistan has been taking strong actions in the past couple days – maybe even too strong. They deny that what they’re doing has anything to do with American and Indian demands, but the Pakistani government has closed 182 religious schools across the country and arrested 120 people suspected of involvement with terror groups. Whether the Pakistani government is more motivated by appeasing India or using the conflict to strengthen its own power is more a matter of how optimistic you are, but at least for now, I think we can say nuclear war will have to wait.