Security escalations in the disputed Kashmir region present a risky dynamic between India and Pakistan. While both states seek to avoid full-scale war, cross-border militancy and a significant military presence in the region present a constant risk for military escalation. Both countries have disputed control over the area since their independence in 1947 and have gone to war over it several times.
The ongoing confrontation between India and Pakistan surrounding the disputed Kashmir region has resulted in further military action, this time apparently initiated by Pakistan. Available information suggests that on Feb. 27, two Pakistani JF-17A fighter aircraft targeted an Indian army ammunitions depot near the Line of Control that divides the Pakistani- and Indian-administered parts of Kashmir. The Indian air force responded by sending two MiG-21 fighter aircraft to intercept the Pakistani jets. In the ensuing encounter, the Pakistani warplanes shot down at least one of the Indian aircraft, which crashed inside Pakistani territory. The pilot, who survived, was captured by Pakistani forces.
Pakistan claims that it also shot down the second MiG, which allegedly crashed in Indian-controlled territory, though no corroborating information for this claim has emerged. Some reports suggest that the Pakistani aircraft or militants also shot down an Indian air force Mi-17V transport helicopter near the Kashmir state summer capital of Srinagar, though other reports attribute that crash to an accident, rather than as part of the exchange. After the incident concluded, Pakistani statements suggested this was a limited action intended to demonstrate Pakistan's ability to respond to India. Russia and China, the closest military backers of India and Pakistan, respectively, have called on the two countries to calm tensions and engage in dialogue. The United States, a military partner of both countries, also urged restraint. In a televised address after the strikes, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan called on India to hold talks.
Why It Matters
The progressive escalation from the deadly attack almost two weeks prior by the Pakistan-backed militant group Jaish-e-Mohammed against Indian security forces to Indian military action against the Jaish-e-Mohammed presence in Pakistani territory and then to direct military action by the Pakistani air force against Indian military assets in Indian-controlled territory highlights the risk of an even broader cycle of violence.
The chain of events that led to the Feb. 27 exchange began with the Feb. 14 car bombing carried out by Jaish-e-Mohammed.
One important factor that may have contributed to the most recent Pakistani action might be the fact that the initial Indian air force retaliation targeted a supposed Jaish-e-Mohammed militant camp in what is undisputed Pakistani territory. Previous Indian military operations against militants have been limited to disputed areas under Pakistani control, and the recent Indian action on its side of the border might have struck Islamabad as far more significant. The escalations underscore how rapidly a response to militant activity in the sensitive region can blow up into state-to-state altercations.
The chain of events that led to the Feb. 27 exchange began with the Feb. 14 car bombing carried out by Jaish-e-Mohammed that killed 44 Indian security personnel. That attack, the deadliest to date in the Kashmir insurgency, inflamed tensions between Pakistan and India, given that the militants allegedly operated from Pakistani-controlled territory. On Feb. 26, India initiated what it called a "nonmilitary pre-emptive response," striking what it identified as the militants' base in Pakistani territory. (The action was nonmilitary in the sense that it did not target Pakistani military forces.) The distinction, however, did not dissuade Pakistan from its own military retaliation.
India and Pakistan have fought three wars over Kashmir, and the border remains disputed. Military tensions are a given in area — both directly between the two states and indirectly through Pakistan's support of militant activity — and pose an ever-present risk of escalation. Although Pakistan has a history of supporting an asymmetrical warfare campaign through militant proxies in Indian-administered Kashmir, Islamabad has criticized India for failing to present evidence linking it to the Feb. 14 attack.