There were so many different kinds of bad news in the recent exchange of hostilities between India and Pakistan. First, and most obvious is that what began with a guerilla-type bombing of an Indian military convoy in the disputed territory of Kashmir, and ended with dueling air force strikes and dogfights over the lines separating the two countries, pushed these long-time enemy states who happen to be nuclear powers closer to the brink of war.
The suicide SUV bombing that killed 40 Indian paramilitary police was committed by a local Kashmiri teenager who had joined Jaish-e-Muhammad, a Pakistan-based militant group that the United States designated as a terrorist organization in 2001.
Was he acting for Pakistan, for the terrorist group, or a faction of the group, or on his own? In Pakistan, there seem to be still no clear answer to those questions.
In India, Prime Minister Narendra Modi immediately vowed revenge against the group, and two weeks later took it, launching an Indian air force strike against what India said was a Jaish-e-Muhammad training camp. It was the first time since 1971 that Indian air force planes had penetrated across the “line of control” that divides Kashmir into Indian and Pakistani-controlled zones. Pakistan responded with interceptors, engaged and drove off the invaders.
But not before bombs were dropped. India says they landed on-target and that up to 300 militants were killed. Pakistan says they landed in open space and caused neither casualties nor serious damage. Who’s telling the truth? Again, the answers are unclear as Pakistani military forces have kept reporters away from the alleged ground zero.
Both prime ministers, India’s Modi and Pakistan’s Imran Khan, signaled they had no appetite for wider war. Modi claimed, because the target was Jaish-e-Muhammed and not Pakistani troops, the attack was “non-military,” while Khan quickly returned to India, an Indian air force pilot who survived being shot down over enemy territory. Good news there, but perhaps over-ridden by the worst news of all, which neither the recently-elected Khan nor the up-for-re-election Modi could ignore – the exchange of fire between Indian and Pakistani forces sharply raised political support for each of the leaders in his own country.
Meanwhile, on Pakistan’s other border, neighbor Afghanistan is filled with talk of a possible peace among the U.S. and its international allies, the government of Afghanistan and the Taliban. But talk is cheap, peace proposals are several and an endgame is not in sight.
Pamela Constable is The Washington Post’s bureau chief in Afghanistan and Pakistan and shuttles back and forth between bases in Kabul and Islamabad. She previously served as a South Asia bureau chief and most recently covered immigration in the Washington area for several years. Her books on Pakistan and South Asia, Fragments of Grace and Playing With Fire have been very well reviewed, with the latter being regarded as one of the most authoritative analyses of Pakistan in print.