Why is Pakistan bothering the RSS

India and Pakistan are on the brink of war

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The warring nuclear powers India and Pakistan are on the brink of war. According to the Pakistani military, on Wednesday they shot down two Indian fighter planes over Pakistani airspace and "arrested" pilots. One day earlier, in retaliation for a terrorist attack in the Kashmir region, the Indian air force bombed an alleged camp of the terrorist organization Jaish-e-Mohammad in the Pakistani province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

The Indian Foreign Ministry confirmed the loss of a MiG 21 fighter aircraft in a very brief and extremely tense press conference on Wednesday; the pilot is said to be "missing in action". An air strike by Pakistan had been repulsed and a fighter plane that had crashed on Pakistani territory was shot down. India lost an interceptor in the process.

In the north of the country, nine airports have been temporarily closed to civil air traffic. "Now we have the escalation spiral that nobody really wants," says former naval officer Abhijit Singh, a senior fellow at the Observer Research Foundation, a think tank in New Delhi.

"Non-military pre-emptive strike"

In fact, as recently as Tuesday, the Indian government described the operation in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa as a "non-military preventive strike", thereby suggesting an anti-terrorist operation. The government assured foreign diplomats that it did not want an escalation. But none of this had any effect in Islamabad: Pakistan rated the bombing on its territory as an attack and hit back immediately.

"Neither Prime Minister Imran Khan nor army chief General Qamar Bajwa want an escalation at the moment," said a Pakistani diplomat in the Indian capital. "But we cannot accept such an attack." The spokesman for the Pakistani military, Major General Asif Ghafoor, stressed that the Indian airspace was not penetrated, but that the planes were shot down from Pakistani territory.

Two difficult months until the election

For better or worse, India will have to de-escalate if it does not want to risk a war with an unpredictable outcome two months before the election. "The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party knows that it has a good chance of re-election if it plays its cards well," says political scientist Happymon Jacob from Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi. And that is exactly what makes the situation more dangerous than usual.

So far there has been an agreement between the nuclear powers to avoid such skirmishes. But the Hindu nationalist government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi is not only in campaign mode, but has been thinking for a long time about how it can react militarily below the nuclear threshold to terrorist attacks.

The February 14 suicide attack in the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir gave the government hawks the opportunity to test their theoretical considerations in practice. More than 40 soldiers died in the attack on an Indian military bus, which the Pakistan-based terrorist organization Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) claimed to be committed to. It was the bloodiest attack since the attack on the Taj Mahal Hotel in Mumbai in 2008 by the terrorist organization Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and the attack on the Indian parliament in 2001 by members of LeT and JeM. Both organizations operate out of Pakistan.

Rumors of involvement in the secret service

They were founded with the explicit aim of "liberating" the Indian part of the disputed region of Kashmir between the two countries; for LeT this is also part of a global "jihad". It is said that the powerful Pakistani military intelligence agency, Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), helped found both organizations.

Pakistan regards the Kashmir issue as an "open bill". It is of the opinion that the predominantly Muslim region should have joined Pakistan after independence in 1947, and sees Indian rule in Kashmir as an occupation. At the same time, Islamabad regularly denies any involvement in the attacks by terrorist organizations, but does not take action against them either.

Pakistan's Prime Minister Imran Khan warned on television of the "incalculable consequences" of war and called for people to "sit down and talk". But at this point New Delhi cannot row back without being a paper tiger. As early as September 2016, India responded to a terrorist attack in Kashmir with "surgical strikes" on Pakistani territory, but Pakistan simply denied that they had even taken place.

Risky strategy

"India must be ready to escalate further if Pakistan strikes back," says political scientist Rajesh Rajagopalan. This is the only way to build a credible deterrent strategy in the long term.

But this is exactly what the international community is trying to dissuade New Delhi from doing: US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called on both sides to "avoid further military activities". But for modes this is hardly possible without losing face or - worse still - the choice. (Britta Petersen from New Delhi, February 27, 2019)