The India-Pakistan crisis deserves our ‘urgent attention‘

Even in this eventful week, nothing came close to matching the perilous significance of the unprecedented airstrikes between Pakistan and India, escalating the risk of war between two nuclear powers.

Headlines in the United States focused more on President Donald Trump‘s former lawyer turning on him before Congress and on the president‘s fruitless Vietnam meeting with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un. Though that made for one of the Trump administration‘s more difficult weeks, it is the South Asian nail-biter that deserves our urgent attention.

India‘s strike on what it said was a terrorist camp inside Pakistan proper on Tuesday followed the next day by Pakistan‘s responding strike on Indian-administered Kashmir mark the first time any nuclear power has carried out airstrikes in another nuclear power‘s territory.

“The escalation ladder … between these two nuclear-armed neighbors remains very steep,” the Atlantic Council‘s Shuja Nawaz. Given both sides‘ standoff weapons that can be launched from air platforms and given increased talk of using miniaturized tactical nuclear weapons, Nawaz saw a risk that “a full-scale war, involving dozens of nuclear weapons, could engulf the subcontinent with grave consequences for the whole region and the world.”

Fortunately, former cricketer and now-Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan defused further immediate escalation with the release on Friday evening (local time) of an Indian pilot who had been captured after he ejected over Pakistani-administered Kashmir.

However, don‘t make the mistake of shrugging off the week‘s events as just another one of the occasional Indian-Pakistani dust-ups. There were aspects of this military exchange that were qualitatively new and troublesome. The changing nature of both countries‘ nuclear arsenals raises new dangers.

Beyond that, a hardening of politics in India and Pakistan‘s inability to seriously take on jihadi terrorist groups operating from its territory contribute to a combustive mix that won‘t go away even after India‘s national elections in April. Hence, it‘s time for the two countries‘ international partners to insist they engage urgently in talks to better manage their relationship; and to find ways to assist Pakistan in deradicalizing and deweaponizing the jihadi groups that still exist inside its borders.