Searching for smart, safe news you can TRUST?

Support safe, smart, REAL journalism. Sign up for our Axios AM & PM newsletters and get smarter, faster.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Searching for smart, safe news you can TRUST?

Support safe, smart, REAL journalism. Sign up for our Axios AM & PM newsletters and get smarter, faster.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Denver news in your inbox

Catch up on the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Denver

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Des Moines news in your inbox

Catch up on the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Des Moines

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Minneapolis-St. Paul news in your inbox

Catch up on the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Minneapolis-St. Paul

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Tampa-St. Petersburg news in your inbox

Catch up on the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Tampa-St. Petersburg

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

India and Pakistan are caught in a dangerous cycle of escalatory violence.

The latest: Pakistan claims to have shot down two Indian fighter aircraft and captured two pilots on Wednesday. This comes after Indian fighter jets screamed across the disputed border with Pakistan earlier in the week and dropped bombs there for the first time since the two countries were at war in 1971. That mission was a direct response to a Pakistan-based terrorist group's recent killing of 40 Indian police officers on the Indian side of the border.

Are we about to see a major confrontation between these two long-standing, nuclear-armed foes?

  • The last time we saw tit-for-tat skirmishes like this was back in 2016, and although that episode subsided, the domestic politics of each country this time around make things more dangerous.
  • Driving the news: A big election looms in India and an untested leader now runs Pakistan.

In India, there were immediate calls for retaliation against Pakistan after the initial terror attack, and people took to the streets across the country this week to celebrate Prime Minster Narendra Modi's decisive action.

  • Modi stands to benefit from resolutely handling a national security crisis that distracts from his so-so economic record.
  • After all, his BJP party faces a national election in the next few months and is still smarting from setbacks in state-level elections late last year. But using a national security crisis for electoral ends could also put the nationalistic Modi on a path towards escalation.

In Pakistan, the military sought to publicly downplay the extent of the Indian bombing, but also pledged to respond in time.

  • On Wednesday, it shelled a number of targets in Indian-controlled Kashmir, and it now has at least one Indian pilot in its possession.
  • Pakistan's relatively new Prime Minister Imran Khan also called an emergency meeting of the body responsible for overseeing the nation's nuclear arsenal. The message to Delhi: I may be politically inexperienced, but I am keeping all options on the table. So don't mess around.

The bottom line: India/Pakistan has long been the most hair-raising nuclear standoff in the world. In the face of a real crisis, can two leaders who both have a strong incentive to act tough keep tensions in check?

Sign up for Signal, a thrice-weekly newsletter from GZERO Media, a Eurasia Group company.

Go deeper

Dan Primack, author of Pro Rata
3 hours ago - Health

Moderna exec says children could be vaccinated by mid-2021

Tal Zaks, chief medical officer of Moderna, tells "Axios on HBO" that a COVID-19 vaccine could be available for children by the middle of next year.

Be smart: There will be a coronavirus vaccine for adults long before there is one for kids.

Updated 3 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Sen. Kelly Loeffler to return to campaign trail after 2nd negative test

Sen. Kelly Loeffler addresses supporters during a rally on Thursday. Photo: Jessica McGowan/Getty Images

Sen. Kelly Loeffler's (R-Ga.) campaign announced Monday that she "looks forward to getting back out on the campaign trail" after testing negative for COVID-19 for a second time, following earlier conflicting results.

Why it matters: Loeffler has been campaigning at events ahead of a Jan. 5 runoff in elections that'll decide which party holds the Senate majority. Vice President Mike Pence was with her on Friday.

Updated 8 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Key government agency says Biden transition can formally begin

General Services Administrator Emily Murphy. Photo: Alex Edelman/CNP/Getty Images

General Services Administrator Emily Murphy said in a letter to President-elect Joe Biden on Monday that she has determined the transition from the Trump administration can formally begin.

Why it matters: Murphy, a Trump appointee, had come under fire for delaying the so-called "ascertainment" and withholding the funds and information needed for the transition to begin while Trump's legal challenges played out.