Tensions flared between India and Pakistan last week after a suicide bombing lead to tit-for-tat reprisals between the two countries.
The hostilities began on February the 14th, when a suicide bomber in Kashmir (a province north-west of India which both countries claim to own) rammed a car packed with explosives into an Indian military convoy, killing more than 40 troops. India accused Pakistan of aiding the suicide bomber. Shortly afterwards, a dozen warplanes were sent into Pakistan to drop bombs on what the Indian government said was a terrorist training camp. India called the operation a success, but Pakistani witnesses in the area refuted India’s claim, saying the bombs had fallen mostly in an empty forest, and had injured only one man (an elderly villager).
A day later Pakistan retaliated, sending their own warplanes to patrol Indian airspace. Sometime during this excursion, an Indian jet was shot down, causing its pilot – Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman – to abandon his craft. After parachuting into Pakistani-controlled territory he was reported to have been surrounded and beaten by a mob. He was then rescued by Pakistani soldiers, who interrogated him for several days. Videos of the interrogations were released on social media, eliciting outrage from some and stoking fears of further reprisals down the line. Both the United States and China waded into the conflict, asking both sides to deescalate the crisis, and calling on Pakistan to return the captured pilot.
Varthaman was released on the 1st of March, roughly 3 days after had been captured. In a speech which welcomed the fighter pilot back to his home country, Indian prime minister Narendra Modi called him “brave”, and said “India … will return the damage done by terrorists with interest”.
Indo-Pakistani relations have been rocky for decades. The two countries (which were initially brought together under British rule) are not only divided along geographic lines, but religious ones as well – Pakistan is mostly Muslim, while India is predominantly Hindu. Unsurprisingly, religious violence has flared along their shared border for as long as both nations have existed. In addition to the religious dispute, the two countries have a long standing feud over the Kashmir region. The region – a neutral Muslim-majority state – was invaded by both sides shortly after Britain left the area. The state’s ruling prince signed an agreement to hand the Kashmir region to India, but the legitimacy of the hand-over has been challenged by both Pakistan and the United Nations. While the territory’s status is disputed, it has been divided into two large areas controlled primarily by India and Pakistan.