Feb 27, 2019

The edge of the nuclear abyss

Illustration of nuclear war symbol made up of fighter jets and flags of Pakistan and India

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

It's just after 3 am in Kashmir, where fresh escalations in the 70-year conflict between Pakistan and India have the 2 nuclear powers on the brink of war.

Why it matters: Do you remember the existential concerns from the Cold War? This is like that, on a subcontinent with more than a billion people.

The latest crisis dates to Feb. 14, when a suicide bomb from a Pakistani militant group killed 40 Indian military personnel in the Indian-administered part of Kashmir.

  • Early yesterday, India entered Pakistan's airspace to attack militant camps it said are linked to the group. India says they killed 300. Pakistan says they attacked an empty forest.
  • Early today, Pakistan shot down an Indian jet, capturing the pilot. Video on Pakistani TV featured the pilot bloody and blindfolded, the Washington Post reports.
  • Airspaces were closed today in northern Pakistan and in parts of India, the New York Times reports.
  • As of early 2017, India had 130 nuclear warheads, while Pakistan had 140, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. (WashPost)

The big picture: Both Pakistan's and India's leaders have incentives to act tough instead of cooling things down, GZERO Media's Gabe Lipton writes.

  • In India, Hindu nationalist Prime Minister Narendra Modi is about to set a date for the country's next election.
  • In Pakistan, Prime Minister Imran Khan has only been in office since August 2018.

The bottom line:

"With the weapons you have and the weapons we have, can we really afford such a miscalculation?"
ā€” Khan today, in a question directed at India
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