Opinion on India-Pakistan Confrontation
James Jay Carafano

The confrontation flared up again in direct military confrontation between the two countries. Frankly, we did not expect India to undertake a kinetic response. But we think our overall assessment remains valid. We think both sides are looking not to escalate. We also think this adds more drag to talks with Taliban - maybe a blessing in disguise. We will closely track and provide updates. Below is a very comprehensive update from our analyst Jeff Smith who has been cross-talking with all parties.


The U.S. has an interest in seeing tensions between India and Pakistan do not escalate further but, for the moment, is best served by conducting limited diplomacy in private.

India has been applauded for showing restraint in the face of Pakistani-based terrorist attacks in the past but that restraint has limits. After responding to an attack in Kashmir in 2016 with surgical strikes in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, it was predictable that India, in an election year, would feel the need to respond to the deadliest single attack in Kashmir by escalating its own response.

This is the first time Indian jets have crossed the Line of Control since 1971 and the first time they have struck targets inside Pakistan proper in response to a terror attack. A new bar has been set and Delhi is likely to respond to future attacks with additional surgical strikes. The two countries are entering a different chapter in bilateral relations.

Pakistan has the pilot of a downed Indian jet fighter in custody. It must treat the pilot with dignity and respect. This cycle of violence will only be broken when Islamabad eliminates the terror infrastructure that has been operating in the country with the support of elements of the Pakistani state for decades. If the U.S. and international community do not want to see India and Pakistan ensnared in future escalation spirals, it must do more to ensure Pakistan dismantles its terror infrastructure.

The Trump administration has adopted a much tougher line toward Pakistan and its support for terrorist groups since January 2017. It must sustain this pressure even as Pakistan attempts to use ongoing peace talks with the Taliban - and its influence over the Taliban - as leverage to mitigate U.S. pressure.


The U.S. government has not publicly commented on the hostilities yet.

Pulwama attack:

On February 14, India witnessed the deadliest single attack on Indian security forces in Kashmir when a vehicle-born suicide bombing struck a convoy killing 40 personnel from the Central Reserve Police Force. Notorious terrorist group Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) claimed responsibility. Jaish is also believed to be responsible for a 2001 attack on the Indian parliament and attack on Indian forces in Kashmir in 2016.

Indian response:

At 3:30 a.m. February 26, five Indian Air Force Mirage 2000 aircraft travelled 10 kilometers across the disputed Line of Control (LoC) in Kashmir and launched multiple, Israeli-made precision-guided bombs targeting a large JeM training camp located in at Balakot in Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. India claimed there were numerous (possibly several hundred) casualties. Pakistan claimed there were no casualties and the Indian jets were intercepted by Pakistani F-16s and turned back.

Significance of Indian response:

This was the first time the Indian Air Force crossed the LoC since the 1971 war and the first time they’ve launched surgical strikes into the Pakistani heartland. Prime Minister Modi was under great pressure to respond given it is an election year and given India launched surgical strikes in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir after JeM launched an attack at Uri in 2016. India insisted there was credible intelligence that JeM was going to launch other suicide attacks soon.

India trying to limit escalation:

India called the strikes “non-military pre-emptive action was specifically targeted at the JeM camp.” Indian Foreign Secretary stated, “The selection of the target was also conditioned by our desire to avoid civilian casualties. The facility is located in thick forest, on a hilltop, far away from any civilian presence."

Pakistan’s counter-punch:

Overnight, two Pakistan F-16s apparently crossed the LoC and dropped bombs (seemingly hitting nothing) and lured an Indian MiG-21 (some reports say there were two) into pursuing them back across the LoC. One MiG-21 was then shot down by ground-based anti-aircraft batteries. A pilot was captured. A video released of the pilot shows him drinking tea and reportedly in good spirits.

Pakistan trying to limit escalation:

Pakistan sought to keep its own strike low profile and limited to military targets. Pakistani PM Imran Khan has appealed to Modi for dialogue, “With the weapons you have and the weapons we have, can we really afford a miscalculation? If this escalates, it will no longer be in my control or in Modi's."

External actors:

Pakistan is likely finding not only a far less sympathetic ear in Washington but in Saudi Arabia as well, which has been busy launching airstrikes on terror camps in a neighboring country and improving relations with India. Even China's ear may be growing less sympathetic on this count. China isn’t particularly thrilled about having to continuously defend known Pakistani terrorists from UNSC sanctions and this makes that chore even less palatable.

Afghan angle:

Pakistani officials have threatened the crisis could impact peace talks with the Taliban, which sounds an awful a lot like “We’ll disrupt your efforts at peace in Afghanistan if you don’t rein in Delhi, even though we promise we don’t harbour the Taliban and have no influence over them.”

(James Jay Carafano is Vice President for the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for National Security and Foreign Policy, and the E. W. Richardson Fellow Davis Institute for National Security and Foreign Policy, The Heritage Foundation, Washington, DC. The paper is the author’s individual assessment)

Image Source: https://images.indianexpress.com/2019/02/balakot-2.jpg

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