Nuclear-armed arch-rivals India and Pakistan escalate toward war

Nuclear-armed arch-rivals India and Pakistan continue to escalate toward war along their disputed Kashmir border as both nations report shooting down enemy aircraft. 

The BBC reported on February 28 that Pakistan shot down one Indian Mig-21 Bison fighter and India shot down a Pakistan JF-17 fighter.  India acknowledged that IAF pilot Asaduddin Owaisi was captured on Pakistan territory and demanded he be treated as a prisoner of war under the Geneva convention.

The simmering seven-decade dispute caught fire after a February 14 suicide attack by an explosive-laden car that rammed into two buses in a large 78-vehicle Indian Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) convoy stuck in a snowstorm near Pulwama, India.

The Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) terrorist group blatantly claimed responsibility for the attack by posting a video message from self-proclaimed martyr Adil Ahmad Dar, a Kashmiri from the Indian village of Gundibagh, near the blast site.  Calling himself "Waqas," Adil claimed he is happily now with Allah and "enjoying" heaven.

Although JeM was officially banned in Pakistan since 2002, it continues to openly operate facilities in the country and maintains a loose alliance with Afghanistan's Taliban and al-Qaeda forces, which provide it funding, supplies, and training.

The Pulwama attack was preceded by 361 violent deaths in Kashmir last year.  Indian statistics list 238 militants, 37 civilians, and 86 security forces killed.  But human rights groups list numerous street protests and over 500 sectarian deaths in 2018.

The Indians had conducted a series of mock fighter incursions along their 2,065-mile border to force Pakistan to scramble and tie down PAF interceptors and confuse radar and anti-aircraft missile operators.

But on February 25 at about 2 A.M., an Indian strike force armada consisting of 12 French-built Mirage-2000s, about eight Russian-built Sukhoi-30MKI fighters, Soviet Ilyushin air tankers, and an American-built AWACS took off across North Central India.

The Indian Mirage bombers crossed the Pakistan frontier at 3:40 a.m. to launch Israeli SPICE (Smart Precise Impact and Cost-Effective) 2000-pound bombs at a large training camp to destroy six buildings housing about 250 terrorists in the Balakot area. 

The location of the JeM camp is 30 miles west of Abbottabad, where Osama bin Laden was finally tracked down and assassinated by U.S. SEALs on May 2, 2011.

The timing of the escalation plays to the advantage of Indian prime minister Narendra Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which are facing national elections that will stretch from April to May.  According to Stratfor Global Insight, Modi was already seeking a second five-year term as the "candidate with unbending resolve, dedicated to redressing the nation's various security woes."

Reuters poll showed a big bounce for the BJP after the JeM terrorist attack last week and Modi's retaliatory bombing of the JeM camp.  The BJP is already hitting social media with posts of what are supposed to be spontaneous Indian flag-waving and anti-Pakistan chanting.  The top trending Twitter hashtags in India are #SurgicalStrike2, #IndianAirForce, and #IndiaStrikesBack.

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