Updated on at 1710 on Monday, March 11*
Over the past few days there’s been a concerning escalation of tensions between India Pakistan that has refocussed global attention on South Asia.
Inside India tensions have been running high since a February 14 attack by the Pakistan-based militant group Jaish-e-Mohammed—designated as a terrorist organisation by the United Nations—which killed 40 Indian security forces in Jammu and Kashmir. This sparked protests around the country, especially among India’s large economically frustrated youth population. While Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke of the need for India to assert itself against Pakistan he also cautioned against retaliatory action, for example attacks directed at Kashmiri students living in India.
On Tuesday, India’s Air Force bombed a purported Jaish-e-Mohammed camp in Pakistan—the first airstrike on Pakistani territory in 48 years. On Wednesday, Pakistan retaliated by launching its own air raid on a target inside Indian-controlled Kashmir and subsequently downed one Indian Air Force jet, capturing one pilot.
It is difficult to predict how the situation will evolve over the coming days and weeks. On the one hand, the Indian government may exploit the situation to its electoral advantage in ways that have further destabilising effects. Twitter and Facebook have been important in the scaling up of anxiety in India and Pakistan and there is a risk that social media may play a role in a further escalation.
Underpinning tensions in both countries is the existence of a large, frustrated youth population who are having to bear enormous hardships in the spheres of education and work and have few outlets for their frustration. Many of these youth ironically present themselves as people in limbo or ‘doing nothing’. This is a worrying situation generally, but especially in the context of rising tensions between India and Pakistan.
On the other hand, the two leaders in India and Pakistan have no interest in precipitating a sustained conflagration, foreign governments are urging restraint, and many people in both countries are calling for talks as a means to end the current standoff. The Australian government and concerned citizens in this country should adopt the same strategy of appealing for a diplomatic solution to conflict in South Asia while maintaining a close watching brief.
At the Aii we have produced a number of articles on the current tensions (see below). This week’s escalation between two nuclear-armed nations underlines more than ever the need for Australia to build expertise in the field of South Asian Studies, through investing in research and teaching programs and through creating a dedicated policy centre on South Asia in Australia – two of the core goals of the Australia India Institute over the next five years.
Aii scholars and fellows writing on the tensions
Craig Jeffrey on India’s request to pressure on Pakistan (Australian Financial Review)
Pradeep Taneja on the background and history of the dispute (Triple J)
Amitabh Mattoo on combatting radicalisation in Kashmir (The Economic Times)
Priya Chacko on the role of domestic politics in the standoff (Lowy Institute)
Simon Papagiorcopulo on the prospects for de-escalation (Foreign Brief)
* this article has been updated to correct the location of Balakot from Pakistan-occupied Kashmir to Pakistan. It has also been updated to reflect recent reports that suggest only one Indian aircraft was shot down by Pakistan and include a note that acknowledges the UN’s definition of Jaish-e-Mohammed as a terrorist organisation.