Recent and consistent escalations between Pakistan and India have forced many to reluctantly question if another Indo-Pak war, almost 50 years after the last one is, in fact, looming.
So, is another Indo-Pak war on the way?
To answer this question, we need to start by analysing the events of the past month.
This recent series of events starts with the attack at Pulwama in Indian Occupied Kashmir (IOK). On February 14th, 2019, a vehicle-borne suicide bomber attacked a vehicle convoy, killing 40 Indian security personnel. The attack has been claimed by Jaish e Muhammed (JeM), an Islamist militant group that has been declared a terrorist organization internationally, including by Pakistan and India. Despite Indian claims of Pakistani involvement and promises of retribution, our government condemned the attack and denied any connection to it.
Fresh on the trails of this attack, Pakistan and India were scheduled to appear at the Peace Palace at The Hague for another hearing of the Kulbhushan Jadhav case in the International Court of Justice (ICJ). Over the course of four day proceedings, held from February 18 to 21st, India failed to provide a convincing argument and proof against Pakistan. They did not, however, miss the opportunity of reiterating their previous grievances regarding Kashmir; hurling allegations of harbouring terrorists.
Emotions were still riding high when on February 26th, the Indian Air Force (IAF) carried out an airstrike across the Line of Control (LoC) in Jaba, near Balakot. They were detected and denied access, at which point they headed back for the border, dropping their payload near Balakot. Indian reports termed it a “preemptive strike” that was “absolutely necessary” and had targeted a large JeM facility, allegedly killing around 350 JeM terrorists. In reality, there were no casualties, save for a few trees and a lone home that sustained damage.
Speaking to the media, Director General InterServices Public Relations (DG ISPR), Major General Asif Ghafoor said that according to military standard operating procedures, we do not retaliate aggressively unless engaged. The IAF aircrafts entered and left, dropping the payload on their way out. “We said that you will never be able to surprise us. You didn’t. We were ready. You were denied”, he said addressing the Indian Air Force during the press conference.
In response to the IAF air strikes, on February 27th, Pakistan Air Force (PAF) carried out airstrikes targeting six sites in Indian territory. The strikes aimed for no casualties or collateral damage. The PAF jets were chased back into Pakistani airspace by four IAF jets, where the IAF jets were shot down. One of the three pilots that fell in Pakistani territory was killed, one has been declared Missing in Action and the third, who was injured, was captured by Pakistani forces. Multiple videos of said prisoner have been released, showing that he is being treated humanely.
Indian Minister of External Affairs Sushma Swaraj said during her visit to China that the Indian government does not want any further escalation and that they will act with restraint and responsibility.
However, many have said that this is more political posturing than a prelude to war. Michael Kugelman, a South Asia expert with the Wilson Center, said that these actions are merely for each side “to vent and blow off steam for a while so that angry constituencies are appeased. And then we can assume the smoke will clear”
The recent aggressive actions were instigated by PM Narendra Modi to further his political goals and secure his bid for re-election. According to Forbes, these recent events have seen a boost in his election prospects. The Economic Times’ polls show Narendra Modi, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and his coalition with better chances of victory, as the situation escalates.
Even academics and ex-politicians in India have condemned PM Modi’s recent actions. Ashok Swain, professor of peace and conflict research at Uppsala University and UNESCO Chair of International Water Cooperation, had predicted that there will be major action at the LoC as the election gets closer. He said in a tweet that these actions were proof of that his prediction was true.
Mayawati Prabhu Das, National President of the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), and four time former Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh also expressed that it was ridiculous that at a time when the country faces the threat of war and needs strong leadership, PM Modi is concentrating on achieving his political goals by meeting BJP workers and hosting political rallies.
Prime Minister Imran Khan has proven to be a rational leader. He has made multiple requests to the Indian PM for negotiations and dialogue. He has even gone as far as to release the captured IAF pilot as a gesture of peace and goodwill.
The international community has also praised this gesture and advised both nations to practice patience and avoid violence at all costs.
So, is another Indo-Pak war Imminent?
The simple answer is No; at least not an all-out war. Neither country can afford that, not right now, if ever. Not Pakistan with PM Imran Khan just getting comfortable in his new role, and not India with PM Modi and BJP seeking re-election. Another, even more significant deterrent of war between the two is their status as nuclear powers. Nuclear weapons are not to be joked with. The consequences of having trigger-happy leaders would stretch far beyond the two nations.
Therefore, as precarious as the situation may seem right now, it is truly more about politics. Even though nationalist sentiments on both sides have been heightened due to constant discourse on social media. The leadership in India is operating majorly to further their political goals, while those in Pakistan are trying their best to prevent further escalation and resolve this conflict through dialogue.
As of right now, the ball is in India’s court. Are they willing to talk this out? Or are we going to war after all?