So this is heating up as Trump is working to cool down N. Korea’s nuclear situation.
Imagine you give two lifelong enemies, person A and person B, a few dozen nuclear weapons each. Then person A helps one of his friends attack person B. Then, in retaliation, person B enters person A’s house and attacks A’s friend.
That’s basically the situation between India and Pakistan right now. Early on Tuesday morning, Indian Air Force jets carried out airstrikes on a terrorist base in Pakistani-controlled Kashmir. Incidentally or not, the target area is just 30 miles from Osama bin Laden’s hideout in Abbottabad. While it’s not clear whether there were any casualties — India says there were many, but Pakistan says there were none — Pakistan is pledging retaliation. Escalation here might spiral out of control.
Still, India’s action is not surprising. The targeted terrorists were members of Jaish-e-Mohammed, the group responsible for an attack in Pulwama in northern India two weeks ago that killed 40 security officers. As I noted following that attack, public anger and electoral considerations joined to national security concerns to give Prime Minister Narendra Modi reason to retaliate. But Modi’s aggressive response was also made likelier by Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan’s scornful response to Indian fury.
While it’s true that India’s retaliation was restrained and intending to avoid escalation, Pakistan is rarely predisposed towards compromise with India. In the hours since the attack, Pakistani politicians have been lining up to offer harsh retaliatory threats against their nemesis. Take opposition leader Shahbaz Sharif, for example, who warned that, “If India initiates a war, Pakistan’s flag will wave over New Delhi.” Imran Khan’s temptation to lash out is also fostered by his populist-Islamic extremist power base. Those interests despise India.
So what happens next?
The U.S. will likely cajole India into avoiding more strikes. At the same time, Pakistan’s primary economic patron, China, will push Islamabad to avoid its own escalation. Again, however, the central problem is the same: powerful Pakistani interests believe they can out-escalate India without suffering major costs. Other Pakistani officials continue to assist Jaish-e-Mohammed in plotting new attacks. In turn, if Pakistan now lashes out at India, or if another terrorist attack against India occurs in the coming weeks, Modi will face immense pressure to respond harshly.
Paranoia, hatred, and nuclear weapons never make a healthy mix. But in South Asia this week, those ingredients are thrown together.