Nuclear powers locked in a terrifying game of chicken: MARK ALMOND on the crisis facing the world as Pakistan ‘downs a pair of Indian jets’ – and a bloodied pilot is paraded on camera

Thursday, February 28, 2019
By Paul Martin

27 February 2019

At the very moment President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un are meeting in an attempt to reduce the global threat from a standoff between the US and North Korea, another terrifying flashpoint has grabbed the headlines.

India and Pakistan are trading blows with escalating aggression across their mutual boundary in Kashmir.

What makes it so dangerous is that both countries now have nuclear weapons. It is the first time two nations with such capability have been involved in military action against each other.

Not even during the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 – when the world stood on the brink of nuclear war over the Soviet installation of missiles on the Caribbean island – was a shot fired in anger.

In skirmishes across the de facto border which divides the disputed Kashmir region, Pakistan has downed two Indian jets and taken one pilot captive, while India claims to have shot down a Pakistani F-16 fighter jet.

The number of casualties is sure to rise but neither side will want to lose face by being the first to back down. And the risk is clear that step by step India and Pakistan could be approaching all-out war.

Indeed Pakistan’s prime minister, the ex-cricketer Imran Khan, raised the spectre of such conflict yesterday, telling his counterparts in New Delhi that ‘better sense’ is needed ‘given the weapons we have’.

The simmering issue of Kashmir has boiled over into war between India and Pakistan three times since Britain abandoned its Indian Empire in 1947.

After independence, the vast sub-continent was split into a Muslim Pakistan and a mainly Hindu India. But the mountainous province of Kashmir in the far north was left out on a limb. Its mainly Muslim population wanted to join Pakistan but its traditional ruler was a Hindu who chose to join the new India.

The result is that a guerilla insurgency by pro-Pakistani Muslim fighters has confronted India’s people – along with half a million Indian soldiers and police – for more than 70 years.

India is the world’s biggest democracy but it refuses to stage a referendum on Kashmir’s future. The government argues that the region is already part of India’s democracy and so doesn’t need a special say on its future.

Pakistan, however, sees Kashmir as a Muslim colony of a largely Hindu India – a colony where its people are permanently outvoted by the rest of the country.

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