Pilot captured in India-Pakistan dogfight

On Wednesday 27 February, Indian Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman’s plane was shot down during a dogfight over Pakistani-Administered Kashmir, the first publicly-acknowledged cross-border aerial conflict since 1971. The incident is the third in a recent escalation of attacks.

Two weeks ago, Pakistan-based militant group Jaish-e-Mohammed claimed responsibility for the killing of 40 Indian paramilitaries in a suicide bombing in India-administered Kashmir. On Tuesday 26 February, Indian jets bombed what they claimed to be Pakistani militant training camps, prompting Wednesday’s events.

Contest over the Kashmir region has been ongoing since before independence from Britain in 1947. Both countries claim ownership of the region. Two of the last three Indo-Pakistani wars were fought over it.

Under the India Independence Act, Kashmir was free to join either Pakistan or India. When the region’s Maharaja, Hari Singh, chose to join India despite popular support for Pakistan, a two-year war erupted. Brought to the attention of the United Nations Security Council, a resolution called on Pakistan to withdraw its troops and India to cut its military presence to a minimum. Pakistan’s refusal to comply with the request lead to a partition of the region.

Conflict erupted once more in 1965, 1971, and 1999 – by which point both countries had declared themselves nuclear powers.

Modern day unrest in Indian-administered Kashmir is coming from the majority of its citizens preferring independence or union with Pakistan. The state of Jammu and Kashmir is the only one in India with a Muslim majority, with over 60 percent of its population following the religion.

While unrest in the region never truly vanished, hope for lasting peace seemed to disappear in 2016; following the death of Burhan Muzaffar Wani, anti-Indian protests started in all ten districts of the Kashmir Valley. Wani was a militant group commander who became famous from his social media activity and militancy actions against Indian rule. The protests were met with force by Kashmir Police and Indian Paramilitary forces, leading to the accounted deaths of more than 90 civilians and over 15,000 injured.

The international community has recently called for de-escalation of tensions between both countries. British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said he was involved in round-the-clock efforts to prevent the crisis from deepening. However, with national sentiment currently at an all-time high, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been adamant to show a stronger stance on the issue. The results of the 2019 Indian General Elections should tell us more of what’s to come.

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Augustin Francois-Poncet

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September 2021
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