The Kashmir conflict dates back to 1947 when India and Pakistan gained independence from British colonial rule. Both countries claim the Himalayan region in its entirety. The dispute is blamed for causing two of their three wars and in 1999 again brought the nuclear-armed rivals to the brink of war. Since the late 1980s, a widespread armed insurgency against the Indian army had been underway in India-administered Kashmir. Today, at least 250,000 Indian and over 100,000 Pakistani soldiers are stationed along the 1,000 kilometer Line of Control which divides Kashmir into Indian and Pakistani controlled parts.
Over the decades, Pakistan's civlian leaders have sought a political resolution of the Kashmir problem, while Pakistan's military leaders have sought to resolve matters by the force of arms. By 2016 Pakistan's sivlian government had lost control of security policy, whch was firmly in the hands of the military. The militant uprising and subsequent Indian military crackdown since 1989 killed nearly 70,000 people. Many Kashmiri favor independence from both India and Pakistan.
The Coalition of Civil Society, a local human rights group, reported and drew attention to thousands of mass graves in remote parts of Kashmir and demanded that the government investigate them to make clear who the dead were and how they were killed. The organization also wrote scathing reports on cases of brutality involving some of the hundreds of thousands of Indian troops in the region and highlighted the widespread powers granted to troops posted in the area, which led to a culture of impunity and widespread rights abuses. The Public Safety Act, which applies only in Jammu and Kashmir, permits state authorities to detain persons without charge or judicial review for up to two years without visitation from family members. Police in Jammu and Kashmir allegedly routinely employed arbitrary detention and denied detainees access to lawyers and medical attention.
Pakistan’s powerful military is not interested in better relations with India. Real peace would mean an end to the army’s elite status as saviors of the country and possible reductions in its substantial economic power. In twenty years of fighting, Kashmir lost seventy to eighty thousand people, and politically achieved nothing.
In 2019, neither India nor Pakistan wanted a large war. Both understand that the other's nuclear stockpile is sufficient to reduce their country to a "smoking radiating ruin". A small war is another matter. Pakistan's military is always vigilant against the danger that peace might break out, that the mad momentum of negotiations might reduce the intensity of conflict, and hence the political influence of the military. A new Pakistani Prime Minister, a political outsider elected with the support of the military, must be brought to heal lest he get too big for his britches. India's Naredra Modi faced general elections on 01 April 2019, and a splendid little war with Pakistan would mobilize his base and cause the country to rally around the flag.
The day after an Indian pilot was freed from Pakistani captivity, offering hope for de-escalation, on 02 March 2019 the two countries resumed shelling in Kashmir, killing a number of civilians on both sides. A 24-year-old woman and her two siblings were killed on Friday night near the Line of Control, a heavily militarized frontier that divides Pakistani and Indian parts of Kashmir. Another civilian was gravely injured in the shelling.
On the Pakistani side of the line, Indian artillery fire killed a boy and wounded three people, according to a government official. He told AP that the neighbor’s forces were “indiscriminately targeting border villagers,” and added that Pakistani troops were “befittingly” responding to the Indian artillery barrage. In total, at least five civilians and 2 soldiers were killed in the attack, Al Jazeera reported.
Pakistan reopened part of the country’s airspace amid further signs of de-escalation with rival India. The country’s civil aviation authority said on 01 March 2019 that all domestic and international flights will be allowed to and from the cities of Karachi, Islamabad, Peshawar, and Quetta. It said other airports, including the one in Lahore that borders India, would remain closed until March 4.
Islamabad closed its air space on February 27 after saying that Pakistan's military shot down two Indian warplanes and captured a pilot. The pilot was handed back to India at a border crossing on March 1, a move Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan has said was a gesture of peace.
The day after cross-border air raids escalated tensions with nuclear-armed neighbour Pakistan, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said India will fight as one nation. Speaking on 28 February 2019 to his party workers across the nation in a video conference, he said the enemy wants to destabilise the country. "When the enemy tries to destabilise India, then one of their motives is to ensure that India's development is stalled.... We must show that the nation will not stop. Our soldiers are defending our borders. We must also work like soldiers and continue our work," local broadcaster India Today reported. "India will live as one; India will work as one; India will grow as one; India will fight as one," he added.
Members of Indian Prime Minister Modi's Bharitiya Janata Party called for more military action, suggesting the conflict still could worsen. Modi himself held a teleconference rally ahead of national elections, warning that "India's enemies are conspiring to create instability in the country through terror attacks."
Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan said his country wants peace and this should not be considered a weakness, adding that he had attempted to contact Indian Prime Minister Modi on Wednesday to call for deescalation.
Pakistan's airspace remained closed for a second day, snarling air traffic. The country's Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) said it "has officially closed its airspace until further notice", while a Pakistani military spokesman said the decision had been taken "due to the environment." Schools in Pakistan-administered Kashmir also remained closed.
Fresh fighting erupted between Indian and Pakistani soldiers along the so-called Line of Control that divides disputed Kashmir between the two nuclear-armed rivals. India's army said Pakistani soldiers are targeting nearly two dozen Indian forward points with mortar and gunfire. Lt. Col. Devender Anand, an Indian army spokesman, said Pakistani troops attacked forward posts along the Line of Control calling it an "unprovoked" violation of the 2003 cease-fire accord.
The 14 February 2019 attack was claimed by the Pakistan-based Islamist militant group Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) soon after a Kashmiri rebel rammed an explosive-laden car into a bus carrying personnel of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF). The bombing ratcheted up already hostile tensions between the two South Asian neighbors, which each rule parts of Muslim-majority Kashmir while claiming the entire territory as theirs.
India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi promised a "strong response" to a car bombing in Kashmir that killed at least 42 troops, with New Delhi calling for "the complete isolation of Pakistan" for harbouring the armed group behind the devastating attack. "We will give a befitting reply," Modi said in a speech on 15 February 2019, soon after he called his security advisers to consider a response to the worst attack on Indian security forces in decades. "Those who committed this heinous act will pay a heavy price. Those who supported it will definitely be punished," he was quoted as saying by the Indian Express newspaper. "If our neighbour thinks it can destabilise India, then it is making a big mistake."
It was the first ever use of Indian air power across the LoC since the 1971 war. A retired Air Vice Marshal of the IAF, Arjun Subramaniam, argued that these attacks marked a strategic milestone where Modi overcame decades of political hesitation and opted to use air power "as an effective tool of deterrence in sub-conventional operations." The IAF had been offering Indian civilian leaders the option of aerial bombing of terrorist launch pads inside Pakistan since the 1990s, but only Modi dared to activate it and thereby crossed a Rubicon.
Tensions escalated sharply following the pre-dawn air strike by India that New Delhi said targeted a terrorist training camp. On 26 February 2019, India carried out pre dawn air strikes in Pakistan on a Jaish-e-Mohammad camp, as a response to its suicide car bomb attack that had killed 40 paramilitary troops in Indian Kashmir nearly two weeks earlier. This marked the first time since 1971 that Indian jets had entered Pakistani airspace. The airstrikes, which India said killed many militants, escalated military tensions between the nuclear-armed rivals. Pakistan claimed the strikes caused no damage or casualites.
In a brief statement, Indian foreign secretary Vijay Gokhale called it a “pre-emptive strike” prompted by credible intelligence that the Jaish-e-Mohammed was planning another suicide terror attack in the country. He said India struck the group’s biggest training facility located at Balakot in Pakistan. “In this operation a very large number of Jaish e Mohammed terrorists, trainers, senior commanders and groups of jihadis, who were being trained for fidayeen action had been eliminated.” India had taken care to avoid civilian casualties according to Gokhale. “The facility is located in thick forest on a hilltop far away from any civilian presence.”
Gokhale announced that the Indian Air Force had struck a militant target in Balakot. “In an intelligence-led operation in the early hours of today, India struck the biggest training camp of JeM in Balakot. In this operation, a very large number of JeM terrorists, trainers, senior commanders and groups of jihadis who were being trained for fidayeen action were eliminated,” read his statement.
Gokhale added: “…this non-military preemptive action was specifically targeted at the JeM camp. 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. As the strike has taken place only a short while ago, we are awaiting further details.”
The strikes were New Delhi's first on its neighbour's territory since the two countries went to war in 1971.
Pakistan said Indian warplanes dropped bombs near the town of Balakot, but there were no casualties. Pakistan officials said that Indian warplanes did breach its airspace and drop a "payload" over Balakot in the country's northeast, but said there was no damage or casualties.
Major General Asif Ghafoor, a spokesman for Pakistan’s military, disputed India’s version of the attack. He said that “Indian aircrafts intruded from Muzafarabad sector. Facing timely and effective response from Pakistan Air Force released payload in haste while escaping which fell near Balakot. No casualties or damage.”
"Now, it is time for India to wait for our response," Ghafoor said. "The response will come at the point and time of our choosing, wherever the civil and military leadership decides and has, as a matter of fact, decided. "It is your turn now to wait, and get ready for our surprise."
Witnesses and local journalists told Al Jazeera that the Indian munitions appeared to strike a mostly uninhabited forest near the mountain village of Jaba. "The payload was dropped near the forest in Batrasi, it is totally uninhabited," said Khalid Chaudhry, a local journalist. Two other journalists at the scene corroborated that version of events. The Reuters news agency quoted a local villager as saying he heard four loud bangs, but that damage was limited to trees and one house. Local residents told Al Jazeera the area was once home to a JeM training camp, but that it had been shut "years ago". They spoke on condition of anonymity, given the sensitivity of the subject.
The targeting of militant camps is a departure from India’s decades-old policy of restraint born out of fears of triggering an outright conflict. Analysts said this is the first air strike launched across the line of control in Kashmir since the two countries fought a war in 1971. Indian forces and air defenses have been put on high alert in anticipation of retaliatory action by Pakistan, which had vowed to respond to any military action by India. There also had been a large troop buildup in Indian Kashmir in recent days.
Indians took to the streets in celebration across the country to celebrate the contested strike. the strike could bolster patriotic sentiment against a backdrop of low farm incomes and weak jobs growth. The Indian media, predictably, went into jingoistic overdrive, with anchors and panellists declaring victory and the social media warriors acting like witches dancing maniacally around a cauldron brewing hate. India's opposition leaders, many of whom had banded together against the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) ahead of the election, congratulated the Indian Air Force (IAF), though they stopped short of praising Modi.
India said 27 February 2019 it lost a combat jet and the pilot was MIA while it foiled an attack by Pakistan military planes over the disputed region of Kashmir. Indian Foreign Ministry spokesman Raveesh Kumar said Indian planes engaged with Pakistan jets and brought one of them down. "In this engagement, we have unfortunately lost one MiG 21. The pilot is missing in action. Pakistan has claimed that he is in their custody. We are ascertaining the facts," Kumar told reporters. Pakistan denied losing any of its planes.
An Indian air force plane crashed in India-administered Kashmir according to an Indian official. Two pilots and at least one civilian were killed here, according to an Indian official. The official says the incident occurred after at least three Pakistan combat jets entered India-administered Kashmir airspace.
On 27 February 2019, Pakistan announced that it had shot down two Indian military jets which had violated its airspace, and captured two pilots whose plane had crashed on the Pakistani side of Kashmir. India counter-claimed that it had intercepted at least three Pakistani warplanes and forced them back, and later that it had shot down one Pakistan Air Force fighter aircraft; a claim denied by Pakistan. During the prior night, the Indian Army claimed to have destroyed five forward posts of Pakistan in a befitting retaliation to firing from across the border in Rajouri and Poonch districts of Jammu Division. As a result of the hostilities between the two countries, the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) announced that Pakistani airspace was initially officially closed for commercial flights, although partially reopened later. In the meantime, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan reiterated his offer of talks with India.
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