India and Pakistan Launch Airstrikes for the First Time Since 1971
For the first time since 1971, the Indian Air Force launched an airstrike on Tuesday that directly targeted Pakistani territory, spurring a retaliatory attack from Pakistan the following day that took down two Indian air jets. Despite warnings from international powers to “exercise restraint,” India and Pakistan have committed to escalating a conflict initially catapulted by a suicide bombing organized by Jaish-e-Mohammad, a Pakistan-based militant group, that killed 46 Indian paramilitary police officers in India-administered Kashmir on Feb. 14.
Indian officials were moved to action on Tuesday after receiving intelligence that Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM), an anti-Indian militant group based in Pakistan with ties to al-Qaeda, had been planning more attacks in the aftermath of February 14’s devastation. According to Vijay Gokhale, a premier Indian diplomat: “in the face of imminent danger, a preemptive strike became absolutely necessary.”
The airstrike directly targeted a JeM training camp, and sources within the Indian government claim that it took the lives of 300 militants. Pakistan has denied this claim, stating instead that the strike was a failure that resulted in zero casualties.
Though the Pakistani government has vehemently rejected the claim that it had anything to do with Jaish-e-Mohammad’s initial February 14 strike, India continues to accuse Pakistan of harboring militant groups, even claiming to have “incontrovertible evidence” of Pakistan’s involvement in the attack. "The existence of such training facilities, capable of training hundreds of jihadis could not have functioned without the knowledge of the Pakistani authorities," Gokhale told reporters at CNBC. However, Pakistan’s Foreign Minister, Shah Mahmood Qureshi, claims that India’s assertions are “self-serving, reckless, and fictitious.”
Pakistani officials responded to India’s airstrike by reiterating Pakistan’s willingness to “respond at a time and place of its choosing” during a meeting of Pakistan’s National Security Committee, which included Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan.
Pakistan’s military response came swiftly. On Wednesday, the country launched its own airstrikes along the Line of Control (LoC) dividing India-administered Kashmir and Pakistan-administered Kashmir. Pakistan struck down two Indian military jets and took one Indian pilot into custody, in what India termed an “unprovoked act of aggression by Pakistan.” India demands the “immediate and safe return” of the pilot.
This represents the first time in history that two nuclear-armed powers have ordered airstrikes on one another, according to CNBC. The conflict is also particularly complicated because of the long history of animosity between India and Pakistan. Since being divided in 1947 after the end of British rule, India and Pakistan have fought three wars over Kashmir, a territory that both nations claim to have complete authority over.
Acknowledging the potential danger the situation presents, other nations have encouraged the two countries to take a step back from the conflict and recognize what could be lost if further escalation were to occur. Concerned, the United States, France, Australia, China, and the United Kingdom have all openly called for restraint.
Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan has also called for a truce with India to allow “better sense” to “prevail.” In a televised broadcast, PM Khan said: “history tells us that wars are full of miscalculation. My question is that given the weapons we have, can we afford miscalculation? We should sit down and talk.”
Despite PM Khan’s call for diplomacy, the decades of tension between India and Pakistan render talks between the two countries particularly difficult. In the next few days, the international community will receive the answer to a particularly momentous question in 2019 South Asian politics: can India and Pakistan’s conflict avoid further escalation.