International powers this week anxiously urged India and Pakistan to avoid further escalation of military confrontation. Given the two nations have gone to war on three occasions during the past seven decades and are both nuclear armed, the international concern is palpable.
The US has lately joined calls by Russia, China and Europe appealing for restraint, and for the Indian and Pakistani leaderships to negotiate a resolution to avert a catastrophic slide towards conflict.
American President Donald Trump, while in Vietnamese capital Hanoi for a summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un, claimed that the US was mediating to defuse the crisis between India and Pakistan.
“We’ve been in the middle trying to help them both out,” said Trump.
Incongruously, however, the Trump administration has in fact acted in an opposite fashion, to inflame the recent tensions between New Delhi and Islamabad.
Trump’s national security advisor John Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo have both issued statements which “support India’s right to self-defense against terrorism”. The US officials have also laid the blame on Pakistan for sponsoring acts of terrorism by militant groups in Indian-controlled Kashmir. The northern territory of Kashmir has been the cause of bitter dispute between India and Pakistan ever since they gained independence from Britain in 1947.
The massacre of over 40 Indian troops earlier this month on February 14 in the Indian-side of Kashmir has sparked outrage among the wider Indian population demanding revenge. The suicide bomb attack was claimed by Kashmiri militant group Jaish e-Mohammed (JeM). India claimed that Pakistan had a hand in the atrocity through its support for JeM, which the Pakistani authorities denied.
The mounting of air strikes by India this week deep inside Pakistani territory on a militant training camp – purportedly in retaliation for the Kashmir massacre of its troops – represented a dramatic escalation. If India had limited its strikes to Pakistani-controlled Kashmir the retaliation could perhaps have been argued as being proportionate. But the violation of Pakistani territory – some 50 kms west of the historical Line of Control – was arguably an act of war. The last time Indian warplanes struck inside Pakistan was in 1971 during the two countries’ third and last war.