Warplanes from India launched an attack on an alleged militant camp Tuesday morning, violating Pakistani airspace in the disputed territory of Kashmir in the latest escalation between the two nuclear powers. The attack carried with it fears of wider war between the two countries.
“Armed conflicts once started take their own course without either side being in control to decide where such hostilities will end,” Professor Muzaffar Ahmed told Indian news service IANS.
The aerial attack came in the wake of heightened tensions between India and Pakistan, after a Feb. 14 suicide attack on Indian security forces in the Kashmiri town of Pulwama, which killed 42, led to India cutting Pakistan off from a key water source controlled by the former on Feb. 21.
The result of the morning’s Indian incursion was unclear at press time. Indian foreign secretary Vijay Gokhale claimed the attack struck a militant training camp and blamed the Pakistani government for allowing the camp to flourish. “The existence of such training facilities, capable of training hundreds of jihadis,” said Gokhale, “could not have functioned without the knowledge of the Pakistani authorities.”
Pakistani sources disagreed with the Indian version of events and said the Indian planes had dropped their payload without a target, showing craters near the small town of Balakot as evidence.
Balakot residents told the Associated Press that they were awakened in the early morning by the bombs but that the raid had no other effect than frightening them.
“We didn’t think for a moment that it was from planes but the explosions were very powerful,” said resident Mohammed Abbas.
The invasion of Pakistani territory by Indian jets marks a significant and dangerous step in the fraught relationship between the two nuclear neighbors, whose countries have fought four wars already in 1947, 1965, 1971, and 1999.
Imran Khan, Pakistan’s new Prime Minister, referred to Indian allegations of hitting the training camp as “a self-serving, reckless and fictitious claim.” Pakistan’s National Security Committee said that the country would respond to the raid “at a time and place of our choosing.”
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, speaking at an election rally, did not refer specifically to the morning’s attack but said that he would not give in to Pakistan.
“I will not let the country bend,” Modi said.
Any escalation in tensions between India and Pakistan that could lead to war could lead to the use of nuclear weapons and possibly trigger a wider regional conflict. China, a longtime ally of India and the third claimant to Kashmiri territory, urged restraint on both sides.
Lu Kang, a spokesman for the Foreign Ministry, told reporters China hopes that its neighbors will “exercise restraint and take actions that will help stabilize the situation in the region and help to improve mutual relations.”
That seemed unlikely Tuesday as gunfire was reportedly heard at the border.