The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris discuss airstrikes launched by India against what it says are militants in Pakistani territory, in what has become a major escalation of tensions between the two countries.
The Indian government said the airstrikes strikes targeted a training camp of the Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) group in Balakot. Pakistan countered by saying its jets had forced back the Indian planes and denied there were any casualties.
India accuses Pakistan of allowing militant groups to operate on its territory and says Pakistani security agencies played a role in the suicide attack on 14 February, which was claimed by JeM and killed 40 Indian troops.
Pakistan denies any role and says it does not provide safe haven to militants.Balakot is in Pakistan’s north-western Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. Residents there told BBC Urdu they were woken by loud explosions. Pakistan condemned the strike and said it would respond “at the time and place of its choosing”.
The strikes are the first launched across the line of control – the de facto border that divides India-administered Kashmir from Pakistan-administered Kashmir – since a war between the two countries in 1971.
Both India and Pakistan claim all of Muslim-majority Kashmir, but control only parts of it. The nuclear-armed nations have fought three wars and a limited conflict since independence from Britain in 1947 – and all but one were over Kashmir.
With most of the world distracted by President Trump’s second summit meeting with Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, tensions between two nuclear-armed powers flared roughly 2,000 miles West in the contested border region of Kashmir.
In retaliation for one of the deadliest terror attacks in the history of the long-running Kashmiri insurgency – earlier this month, a Muslim ‘mujahidin’ drove a car loaded with explosives into a bus packed with Indian paramilitary soldiers, killing more than 40 – Indian fighter jets carried out a tactical strike on what the Indian government described as a training camp for the militant group Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM), killing more than 300 militants and infuriating the government in Islamabad, which condemned the attack and insinuated that it could launch a counter-strike of its own, with Prime Minister Imran Khan warning the nation of 200 million and its armed forces to “remain prepared for all eventualities.”
Unsurprisingly, the two countries offered contrasting descriptions of the attack. Here’s more from Al Jazeera:
Indian fighter jets on Tuesday crossed into Pakistani territory, conducting what the foreign ministry in New Delhi termed a “non-military pre-emptive action” against armed group Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM), dramatically escalating tensions between the nuclear-armed neighbours weeks after a suicide attack in the disputed Kashmir region.
Pakistan reported the Indian airspace incursion, with military spokesman Major General Asif Ghafoor saying its air force jets were scrambling to respond, forcing the Indian aircraft to “release [their] payload in haste while escaping”.
Indian Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale, however, asserted that the jets had hit their target, and that “a very large number of JeM terrorists, trainers, senior commanders and groups of jihadis who were being trained for fidayeen action were eliminated”.
“The government of India is firmly and resolutely committed to taking all necessary measures to fight the menace of terrorism,” he told reporters in New Delhi. “Hence this non-military pre-emptive action was specifically targeted at the Jaish-e-Mohammed camp.”
One professor said this was the first time Indian air forces had crossed the “line of control” dividing Kashmir in more than four decades…
“The last time the Indian Air Force crossed the line of control intentionally and publicly to conduct air strikes was 1971,” Vipin Narang, an associate professor of political science at MIT said via email, referring to the last Indo-Pakistan war.
…And the strike also marked the first time that Indian air forces had attacked a “terrorist target” on Pakistani territory.
C Uday Bhaskar, the director of the Society for Policy Studies based in New Delhi, said: “India has sent a very firm signal.”
“The fact that air power has been used for the first time against a terrorist target to my mind signalled to Pakistan that India is demonstrating resolve in terms of using military power, particularly air power,” he said.
In response to the Feb. 14 terror attack that initially sent tensions soaring, the Indian Army said earlier on Feb. 19 that it had killed a JeM leader in Kashmir who was a Pakistani national with links to the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence service. Pakistan has denied any links.
Payload of hastily escaping Indian aircrafts fell in open. pic.twitter.com/8drYtNGMsm
— DG ISPR (@OfficialDGISPR) February 26, 2019
Bloomberg described the attack as “the worst escalation” between the two countries since 2001, when India and Pakistan moved ballistic missiles and troops to the contested border following an attack on India’s parliament in New Delhi.
Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi accused India of violating the line of control during a televised press conference.
“India has committed aggression against Pakistan today – I will call it a grave aggression,” Qureshi said.
Relations between the historic arch-rivals has been extremely tense since a suicide car bombing, claimed by the Pakistan-based terrorist group Jaish-e-Mohammed, on Feb. 14 in Kashmir killed 40 members of India’s security forces. Jaish-e-Mohammed is a United Nations designated terrorist group.
Anybody who needs a refresher on the roots of the Kashmir conflict should watch this video from Al Jazeera:
Though the region is majority Muslim, India controls two-thirds of Kashmir:
As we reported earlier, Rand Corp estimated a decade ago that a nuclear exchange between India and Pakistan would kill two million people immediately, and another 100 million during the ensuing weeks. Major water sources in the two countries would be contaminated. Clouds of radioactive dust would blow around the globe.
And there are a few key aggravating factors that differentiate this incident between other recent flareups along South Asia’s most contentious border: Looming elections in India have made the Hindu nationalist government in New Delhi fearful of being perceived as “soft” on Muslim terrorists. And in response to India’s clearly superior conventional weapons heft, Pakistan has refused to rule out the possibility of using tactical nuclear weapons if confronted with a superior military threat.
And with that, the world inches closer and closer to all-out nuclear war.
The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The Duran.