The world edged uncomfortably close to a nuclear war this week — and none of the principals in the conflict were named Trump, Putin, or even Michael Cohen. Pakistan and India have opened fire on each other in an escalation of the dispute over the Kashmir province, the first such clash of arms between the two in twenty years. Pakistan captured a downed Indian pilot after shooting down a sortie over Pakistan’s territory, and are now offering to repatriate him as “a gesture of peace”:
Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan says he will release a captured Indian pilot tomorrow as a gesture of peace.
“We have captured a pilot of India. As a gesture of peace we are going to release him to India tomorrow,” said Khan. “I did try yesterday to talk to Narendra Modi only to de-escalate this situation. But this de-escalation effort should not be considered as weakness.”
He told lawmakers in the country’s parliament he hoped the international community would play its part in de-escalating tensions with India.
Modi did not sound a conciliatory note in return. He accused Khan of having “evil designs” on Kashmir and seemed to hint at an escalation rather than calm:
Speaking to party workers in a video conference on Thursday, Modi did not respond to an offer of dialogue from Khan, leaving open the possibility of further escalation between the two nuclear-equipped armies.
“The enemy tries to destabilise us, carries out terror attacks,” Modi said. “Their motive is to stop our growth. Today, all countrymen are standing like a rock to counter their evil designs.”
The two leaders have been exchanging taunts and demands over the last several days. Modi called on Khan this weekend to account for the initiating incident, a suicide attack on Pulwana on February 14th in India-controlled Kashmir that killed 42 soldiers. Modi reminded the Pakistani leader of his claim to be a “son of a Pathan” who will “speak true and do true”:
On Saturday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi threw a challenge to his Pakistani counterpart Imran Khan, asking him to act honourably by bringing to justice those responsible for the Pulwama terror attack. Addressing a rally in Rajasthan’s Tonk, PM Modi recalled the phone call he made to Mr Khan to congratulate him for winning the Pakistani elections last year.
He said “I told him there have been plenty of fights between India and Pakistan. Pakistan got nothing. Every time, we won. I told him let us fight against poverty and illiteracy. He told me, ‘Modi ji, I am the son of a Pathan. I speak true and I do true’. Today, the time has come for him to stand true to his words. I will see whether he stands true to his words or not”.
Yesterday, Khan urged Modi to start discussing peace or at least a truce. In a speech covered by NDTV, the Pakistani PM warned that neither country can afford “miscalculations,” given their nuclear status:
Speaking to local television channel Geo News on Thursday, Shah Mehmood Qureshi said that if the gesture will ease soaring tensions, Pakistan is prepared to return the Indian air force pilot it captured after downing “two fighter jets” over Pakistani airspace in Pakistan-administered Kashmir.
“I am sending a message to India: if the return of this pilot allows for a de-escalation, then Pakistan is ready to consider it,” Qureshi said. …
India has handed over its files on the deadly February 14 bombing to Pakistan, Foreign Minister Qureshi confirmed on Thursday.
“Today, [India] has sent a dossier … we have received it, we will examine it, and now come and speak to us on the basis of this dossier,” the foreign minister said.
Khan warned that if Modi didn’t take steps to dial down the tensions, the result “won’t be in my control.” That’s a rather chilling statement from one nuclear power to another. News of the conflict even intruded on the nuclear talks that captured most of the world’s attention in Hanoi. Trump told reporters that the US and other nuclear powers have already begun trying to calm both nations:
The US president, Donald Trump, who was addressing a press conference in Hanoi at the same time Modi was speaking, hinted that diplomatic efforts had begun behind the scenes.
“They have been going at it and we have been involved,” Trump said. “We have some reasonably decent news, hopefully it’s going to be coming to an end, this has been going on for a long time, decades and decades.”
The conflict between India and Pakistan goes back farther than the Korean War, and appears more likely to go hot. Pakistan’s dalliance with radical Islamist terror networks comes in large part from their Kashmir strategy. It makes little difference to India under those circumstances that the suicide bomber was a native Kashmiri. Pakistan’s provocations in the region and its alliance with groups like the jihadist terror network in which the bomber claimed membership provides a constant source of tension. And not just in India, either; Afghanistan is not far west of Kashmir, where the US has fought since November 2001 against the Taliban and its Islamist terror allies.
It’s in everyone’s interest to get India and Pakistan talking in earnest about settling the Kashmir question … even if few are actually talking about it.