The standoff between India and Pakistan would be hard enough to resolve if the two countries did not have nuclear weapons. That’s before you factor in a jingoistic media scene, the rapid spread of rumors and disinformation on messaging and social-media apps, and the fact that India’s nationalist prime minister is heading into parliamentary elections.
The result: the worst military crisis between the countries in nearly two decades. Stepping back from the brink now will require political courage in New Delhi and reciprocity in Islamabad.
This latest dispute has several causes. First, there’s the historical, territorial, and fundamental national-identity issues that remain unresolved between them. Then there’s the Pakistani military-intelligence complex’s use of non-state actors against India over a span of several years. And finally, there’s the proximal cause of today’s crisis—that after years of absorbing terrorist attacks conceived and planned on Pakistani soil, India chose to say enough was enough.
The Pakistan-based group Jaish-e-Mohammed has claimed responsibility for an attack two weeks ago that struck a convoy of Indian paramilitary personnel, killing 40 Indians. New Delhi promised retaliation, and delivered with air strikes against what it said was a terrorist camp near the Pakistani town of Balakot—the first such move involving the use of conventional airpower by one nuclear-armed state against the territory of another. The Indian foreign ministry claimed the strikes were “preemptive” and the targets “non-military.” The choice of target, similarly, was based on what the Indian foreign secretary said was credible intelligence.