Brinkmanship in South Asia

December 14, 2008

Pakistan said two Indian Air Force planes violated Pakistani airspace on Saturday, one along the Line of Control in  Kashmir and the other near Lahore  in Pakistan proper. Pakistani officials said Pakistani jets on patrol chased the Indians away and that the Indian Air Force, upon being contacted later, told them it had happened accidentally.

  The Indian Air Force, though, has told the media that none of its planes had violated Pakistani airspace.  There has been no official response from the Indian government.

What is really going on here? Is it a case of nerves jangling, or perhaps the Pakistani establishment is  building up war hysteria against a foe they know all too well the country will unite against?
Or, on the flip side, the Pakistanis are right and the intrusions by the Indian jets did take place? Was New Delhi making an aggressive display, part of the “controlled escalation” that some people have talked about to force Pakistan to act for the Mumbai attacks?

[Indian Su-30 fighter jets.Reuters pic}]

These are dangerous times to be making “inadvertent” violations into each other’s territory.  You would  think if you were flying close to the Line of Control in Kashmir or near the international border in Punjab at this time of heightened tensions, you would be even more careful.

But two violations on the same day, both as some in the Pakistan press have pointed out near camps of  the Lashkar-e-Taiba and you begin to think this has to be taken seriously and not dismissed outright.

Stratfor said given the tensions between the two nuclear neighbors after the Mumbai attack, and the details of the intrusions, it is unlikely that these incidents were accidental.

Rather, it said, New Delhi was increasing pressure on Islamabad to take concrete action not just against militants, but more  importantly their sympathizers within the Pakistani military-intelligence establishment.

Pakistan has acted by banning the Jammat-ud-Dawah (JuD), a charity linked to the Lashkar-e-Taiba, which India accuses of masterminding the Mumbai attack, and arresting its leaders. But Delhi says Islamabad has banned groups in the past, only to ease the pressure on them later, and that, it says, is now unacceptable.

 [A view of a madrasa near Muzaffarabad, capital of Pakistan-administered Kashmir]

So are the foes on a steady escalation path? And can you really control this from start to finish? 

Pakistan is already chafing at the U.S. raids and missile attacks on its western border, the latest one only this week. Does it now face Indian pressure on its eastern flank?


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