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Shooting down of Indian and Pakistani fighter jets raises likelihood of localised military conflict in Kashmir

27 February 2019
An Indian Army helicopter lands in Budgam, Kashmir, where an IAF helicopter crashed on 27 February 2019. Source: Tauseef Mustafa/AFP/Getty Images

On 27 February, Pakistan Air Force (PAF) fighter jets launched airstrikes against six "non-military" targets - later described as empty areas - in Indian-administered Kashmir across the Line of Control (LoC). In response the Indian Air Force (IAF) scrambled its own fighter jets, and two IAF jets and one PAF plane were shot down according to conflicting accounts from India and Pakistan. At least one Indian pilot also appears to have been captured by Pakistan. The developments follow an IAF airstrike against suspected militant bases in Pakistani territory on 26 February, after India accused Pakistan of involvement in a major Kashmiri separatist attack against Indian security forces in Indian-administered Kashmir on 14 February, which Pakistan denied.

  • There is a very high risk of escalation towards localised, but more intense direct Indian-Pakistani military confrontation in Kashmir. Artillery and small-arms exchanges between India and Pakistan across the LoC have intensified in frequency since 25 February. The shoot-down of IAF fighter jets and the capture of Indian pilots has intensified pressure on the Indian government to demonstrate a robust response, thus increasing the likelihood of further retaliatory IAF airstrikes in Pakistan-administered Kashmir. Interstate war risk associated with Indian cross-border military operations in Pakistan-administered Kashmir has also increased. A failed operation would be very politically damaging to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, particularly if the operation involved the capture of further Indian military personnel by Pakistan. Such developments would be a strong indicator of a scenario in which broader localised Indian-Pakistani military confrontation takes hold in Kashmir.
  • Indian and Pakistani military assets are likely to be prioritised in a localised military conflict in Kashmir, rather than critical infrastructure in the disputed region and along the actual border. India and Pakistan have emphasised that their airstrikes have sought to target non-military and non-civilian targets, in line with their mutually stated intent to avoid unmanaged military escalation.

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