India and Pakistan tobogganing toward a catastrophic war
2 March 2019
India and Pakistan, South Asia’s rival nuclear-armed states, are teetering on the brink of a full-scale military conflict. Early Tuesday morning, Indian warplanes attacked Pakistan for the first time since the 1971 Indo-Pakistani War. Striking deep inside Pakistan, they destroyed what New Delhi claims was the principal “terror base” of the Jaish-e-Mohammed, an Islamist group involved in the separatist insurgency in Indian-held Kashmir.
After a brief period of confusion, as it assessed the damage and strategic implications of the Indian attack, Islamabad vowed a strong military response. Pakistan, it declared, would not allow India to “normalize” illegal US or Israeli-style attacks inside Pakistan, whether mounted in the name of retaliation for, or preemptive strikes against, Kashmiri insurgent attacks.
The next day, Indian and Pakistani war planes engaged in a dogfight over the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir, after Islamabad launched what New Delhi claims was an unsuccessful strike on Indian military installations. Both sides are claiming to have shot down at least one enemy plane in Wednesday’s encounter, with Islamabad presenting a captured Indian pilot as proof of its claim.
The US, China, Russia and other world powers are now publicly scrambling to avert the eruption of all-out war—a war they concede could quickly spiral into a catastrophic nuclear exchange, even were it to be “confined” to the subcontinent. Yet even as they counsel restraint and make offers of mediation, the great powers—themselves locked in, to use the Pentagon’s term, “a new era of strategic competition”—are trying to use the South Asian war crisis to advance their own geostrategic…