Nuclear-armed arch rivals India and Pakistan face their worst tension in years, with Islamabad saying they shot down two Indian warplanes on Wednesday and captured two pilots. Pakistan immediately shut down its civilian airspace in response.
What's at stake in this rapidly worsening conflict that both sides say they want to deescalate?
What started this latest tension?
On February 14, a suicide car bomber attacked a paramilitary convoy in Kashmir, killing more than 40 troops. The militant group Jaish-e-Mohammed, which is based in Pakistan, claimed responsibility for the attack. The suicide bomber was from Kashmir. New Delhi long has accused Pakistan of cultivating such groups, something denied by Islamabad. India launched an airstrike on Pakistani territory early Tuesday that New Delhi called a pre-emptive strike against militant camps in Pakistan. India said its bombs killed a "very large number" of militants, while Pakistan said there were no casualties in an airstrike it described as being carried out "in haste."
Why is this tension so dangerous?
Both India and Pakistan are believed to possess more than 100 nuclear warheads each and have conducted atomic weapon tests. Both countries have test-fired nuclear-capable missiles. Pakistan also has refused to renounce a first-strike option with its atomic bombs should it feel outgunned in a conventional war. It takes less than four minutes for a missile fired from Pakistan to reach India. The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists warns that "computer models have predicted that the physical impacts of a nuclear exchange between India and Pakistan, or even a single strike on a large city, would be devastating and would reverberate throughout the world."
How do the militaries of India and Pakistan compare?
India, home to 1.3 billion people, has a conventional army of about 1.4 million soldiers. Pakistan, with a population of over 200 million people, has about 650,000 troops. Both countries have spent billions over the years developing conventional arms. Last year, Pakistan spent about $11 billion or about 3.6 percent of its gross domestic product on defence. India meanwhile allocated about $58 billion, or 2.1 percent of its GDP on defence, according to the International Institute for Strategic Studies. India's ballooning military spending has propelled it to the world's fifth-biggest defence spender, surpassing the United Kingdom, according to the IISS.
How is Pakistan reacting?
Pakistan, which has a history of military coups and strong-arm rule from those tied to its intelligence services, has largely reacted to this conflict through its civilian government. Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi took the lead to condemn the airstrike on Tuesday, painting India as an aggressor who would suffer repercussions, without elaborating. Qureshi also accused Prime Minister Narendra Modi of playing with regional stability to get votes in upcoming national elections. Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan has called for a joint meeting of Pakistan's upper and lower houses of parliament. Public criticism of India has been loud across Pakistani media, with sporadic protests against New Delhi breaking out across the country.
How is India reacting?
Indian government officials called the airstrike on Tuesday a counter terrorism operation based on credible intelligence that another attack against India was imminent. The tensions could be a boon for Modi, whose Bharatiya Janata Party aims to maintain power in the upcoming elections. The airstrike appears to have temporarily insulated the Modi government from criticism about it failing to create as many jobs as pledged in the 2014 elections. Opposition party leaders have responded with support for India's air force. Meanwhile, Modi earned points with the powerful the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, or RSS. RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat said on Tuesday: "Truth and non-violence are fine, but the world understands the language of power."
First Published: Feb 27, 2019 4:48 PM IST
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