Pakistan-India tensions on high over Kashmir

Pakistan and India are on the brink of war after aerial clashes last week saw to the downing of two Indian fighter pilots. India carried out strikes against militant bases inside Pakistan territory in response to the Feb. 14 suicide bombing that claimed the lives of 42 Indian paramilitary police in Indian-controlled Kashmir.

In response, Islamabad launched its own attack across the Line of Control, the de facto border between the two countries in the disputed Kashmir region, resulting in the capture of a downed Indian air force pilot.

Pakistan handed over downed Indian pilot Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman in an effort to de-escalate tensions with its nuclear rival. In a gesture of peace, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan announced the release of Varthaman and made clear his intention to diffuse the situation with India.  

Islamabad released a video showing Wing Commander Varthaman drinking chai saying “the tea is wonderful and that his captors were “thorough gentlemen.” India filed a complaint calling the video a “vulgar display” as reported by The Guardian.

Pakistan-based militant group Jaish-e-Mohammed took credit for the attack, releasing a video showing 19-year-old suicide bomber and aspiring cleric Adil Ahmed Dar. In the video Dar declares, “By the time this video reaches you, I will be in Heaven,” and “your oppression fuels our jihad.”

Dar was mourned by his father, a fabric seller. “He was a very responsible boy, He would help out his mother, he take care of daily affairs at home.”

According to Indian news site Scroll, Dar was behind “the deadliest attack by militants on security forces in Kashmir’s three-decade-long militancy.” Just days after the attack, India’s Home Ministry withdrew security detail from four Kashmiri separatists leaders. The controversial move is expected to increase regional tensions, according to analysts and pro-Indian political leaders.

“In view of the recent terror attack on a Central Reserve Police Force convoy in Lethpora village in Pulwama, the government of India has emphasized the need to immediately review the wastage of police resources in providing unnecessary security to a large number of non-government persons, particularly relevant in the context of security provided to separatists and their sympathizers,” the order said, according to Al Jazeera.

Rajnath Singh, India’s home minister, said separatist leaders are “getting funds from Pakistan and its snooping agency [Inter-Services Intelligence],” according to Tehran Times. All security and vehicles provided are to be withdrawn by March 3.

“Some elements in Jammu and Kashmir have links with the ISI and terrorist organizations,” he said after reviewing security after the attack. “Their security should be reviewed.”

India banned Jamaat e Islami—a Kashmir-based Islamist political party at the heart of the conflict—for five years on Feb. 25, accusing the group of supporting militancy in the region.

Pakistan and India have fought three wars over Jammu and Kashmir since Pakistan’s independence in 1947. Kashmir is a Himalayan region claimed by both countries and administered by India with heavy military presence. Separatist insurgency and militant activity began in 1989 after the 1987 Jammu and Kashmir legislative assembly was largely viewed as rigged.

Pakistan’s army spokesman Major General Asif Ghafoor told reporters in Rawalpindi, “We have no intention to initiate war, but we will respond with full force to full spectrum threat that would surprise you,” according to Reuters.

“Don’t mess with Pakistan.”