Q&A: What’s at stake as India-Pakistan tensions rise?

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Indian Border Security Force personnel walk along a fence at the India Pakistan border on the outskirts of Amritsar on February 27, 2019. (AFP / NARINDER NANU)
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Pakistani soldiers patrol in the area where Indian planes were reportedly shot down by Pakistani forces, after India launched airstrikes Tuesday, in Jaba, near Balakot, Pakistan. (AP Photo/Aqeel Ahmed)
Updated 28 February 2019

Q&A: What’s at stake as India-Pakistan tensions rise?

  • Both India and Pakistan are believed to possess more than 100 nuclear warheads each and have conducted atomic weapon tests

ISLAMABAD: Nuclear-armed rivals India and Pakistan face their worst tension in years over the disputed region of Kashmir, with Islamabad saying they shot down two Indian warplanes Wednesday and captured two pilots. Pakistan immediately shut down its civilian airspace in response.
But how did the relations between these two Asian nations become so bad and what’s at stake in this rapidly worsening conflict that both sides say they want to de-escalate?
On Feb. 14, a suicide car bomber attacked a paramilitary convoy on the Indian-controlled side of Kashmir in the Himalayas, 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 Indian 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.”
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.”

When Britain granted independence to the region in 1947, it divided the Indian subcontinent into a predominantly Hindu India and mostly Muslim Pakistan. Some areas could decide their own fate. In Kashmir, the only Muslim majority area ruled by a Hindu monarch, its ruler decided against giving the population a choice. That started the first India-Pakistan war in 1947. The conflict ended in 1949 when a United Nations resolution established the Line of Control dividing Kashmir between the two nations and calling for a direct vote on which country should control it. That vote has never been held. Indian and Pakistan fought a second war over Kashmir in 1965.
India and Pakistan fought a third war in 1971 over what was East Pakistan, which later became an independent Bangladesh. In 1999 and 2000, after Pakistan’s military sent a ground force into Indian-controlled Kashmir at Kargil, the two countries faced off and a worried world urged both to pull back from the brink of war, fearing it could escalate into a nuclear conflict. Even in times of relative peace the two nations readily engage in brinkmanship and aggressive rhetoric.
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 developing conventional arms. Last year, Pakistan spent about $11 billion or about 3.6 percent of its gross domestic product on defense. India meanwhile allocated about $58 billion, or 2.1 percent of its GDP on defense, according to the International Institute for Strategic Studies. India’s ballooning military spending has propelled it to the world’s fifth-biggest defense spender, surpassing the United Kingdom, according to the IISS.


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 Tuesday, painting India as an aggressor who would suffer repercussions, without elaborating. Qureshi also accused Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi of playing with regional stability to get votes in upcoming national elections. 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.
Indian government officials called the airstrike Tuesday a counterterrorism operation based on credible intelligence that another attack against India was imminent. The tensions could be a boon for Modi, whose Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party aims to maintain power in elections due by May. 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 Hindu nationalist social group, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, or RSS. RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat said Tuesday: “Truth and non-violence are fine, but the world understands the language of power.”
Associated Press writer Emily Schmall in New Delhi contributed to this report.

Long-evasive Afghan peace deal to be signed on Feb. 29

In this photo taken on February 17, 2020, Afghan National Army (ANA) soldiers take part in a military exercise at a base in Guzara district in Herat province. (AFP)
Updated 47 sec ago

Long-evasive Afghan peace deal to be signed on Feb. 29

  • America-Taliban 7-day ‘reduction in violence’ to start on Saturday

KABUL: A seven-day period of a “reduction in violence” in Afghanistan, a key condition by the US to sign a peace deal with the Taliban, will start at midnight Afghan time, a government spokesman confirmed on Friday.

The reduction in violence, which is not a cease-fire, follows months of talks between the US and the armed group to sign an agreement that would pave the way for an intra-Afghan dialogue and initiate the departure of US troops from the country.
“It begins on Saturday at 12 a.m., 22nd of February,” National Security Council spokesman Javid Faisal told reporters. “We are hoping that the other side (the Taliban) will reduce violence as per the commitments. Required and necessary guidance has been given to Afghan forces in this regard,” he added, but gave no further details.
Interior Minister Masood Andarabi earlier this week spelled out parts of the plan. “The Taliban have committed to preventing (not conducting) suicide attacks, blasts and rocket strikes during this period and will observe a significant reduction of violence,” he said.
The NATO-led Resolute Support Mission will also hold back on its operations but will back Afghan forces if they are attacked, according to two security sources unauthorized to talk to the media. A US-Afghan monitoring team will observe Taliban activity during the period.
Presidential spokesman Sediq Sediqqi said on Thursday that President Ashraf Ghani discussed issues related to the Afghan peace deal and details of the “significant reduction in violence” with Zalmay Khalilzad, the chief US negotiator, who has been in Kabul for the past two days. But Ghani has been excluded from talks because the Taliban sees his administration as a “puppet” of the West.


The reduction in violence, which is not a cease-fire, follows months of talks between the US and the armed group to sign an agreement that would initiate the departure of US troops.

Hours after the violence reduction announcement by Faisal, the Taliban said in a statement that it would sign the peace deal with Washington on Feb. 29.
“Following lengthy negotiations between the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan and the United States of America, both parties agreed to sign the finalized accord in the presence of international observers on the 5th of Rajab Al-Murajab 1441 (Hijri Lunar) corresponding with the 10th of Hoot 1398 (Hijri Solar) and 29th of February 2019 (Gregorian),” said Zabihullah Mujahid, a Taliban spokesman.
The Feb. 29 date was also cited by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. “We are preparing for the signing to take place on February 29,” he said. “Intra-Afghan negotiations will start soon thereafter.”
The violence reduction plan and push for signing the deal comes days after Ghani was officially declared the winner of last year’s disputed presidential polls.
The declaration resulted in further political turmoil, with Ghani’s archrival Chief Executive Dr. Abdullah Abdullah blasting the result and threatening to form his own government.
Ghani and Abdullah have been at loggerheads ever since they first assumed power in a joint national unity government formed through a US-brokered deal following the disputed 2014 election.