On February 14, in the disputed region of Kashmir, a suicide bomber rammed into a convoy of Indian paramilitary police, killing 44. The attack was claimed by the Pakistan-based Islamist group Jaish-e-Mohammad and was the deadliest bombing in Kashmir in three decades. Nearly two weeks after the attack, India launched a retaliatory airstrike. USIP’s Moeed Yusuf examines how the U.S. and international partners are key to preventing further escalation that could lead to nuclear war.
First, I think we have got to understand that this is serious. I’m not exaggerating when I’m saying that since Cuba in 1962, this is the closest we’ve gotten to a real nuclear crisis. This could escalate very quickly.
Second, unlike the Cold War, India and Pakistan do not have any dependable means of crisis de-escalation. The Pakistani Prime Minister, in fact, publicly said that they know how to get into a crisis, but where the war goes, they don’t know.
In the past, every time they’ve gotten into a major crisis— there have been 3 or 4 since they became nuclear powers in 1998—it’s been the U.S. that has gone in, mediated, and gotten them to back off. It’s been the U.S. leading the charge internationally with the Chinese, with the Brits, with the Russian all involved, giving one message: deescalate the crisis and then we will worry about everything else.
I will say two things that have worked in the past. One: shuttle diplomacy. There were senior U.S. officials, senior officials from Britain, there was a tag team that showed up in India and Pakistan and physically made these countries realize that this needs to stop. We haven’t seen that yet and I think it needs to begin immediately.
And second: There was a clear sense in India and Pakistan that the world had united in that message. It wasn’t only allies like Britain and Europe, but it was also the Chinese and Russians playing a very seriously helping hand to make that happen. Again, it’s not clear that that can or will happen right now, but this is where we need to focus.
There is no space for complacency— this could really escalate quickly now given where the situation is.