India and Pakistan exchanged heavy gunfire across the line of control in the disputed territory of Kashmir Tuesday, after a string of other intense confrontations.
“It appears as if a full blown war is going on between India and Pakistan,” a Kashmiri villager near the line of control told Reuters. “Please have mercy and stop it,” he said, reportedly as gunfire sputtered in the background. Both gunfire and artillery were involved in the latest clash, and killed at least 19 people on both sides.
The latest high-profile clash joins a series of escalating incidents between both countries. Relations deteriorated almost completely after a border clash between the two security forces erupted Sept. 17. Islamist militants stormed into an Indian Army base and gunned down 17 soldiers.
The Indian government then claimed two weeks later on Oct. 3 to have conducted “surgical strikes” by special forces across the Pakistani line of control in Kashmir. Indian incursion into Pakistan without prior notice again inflamed tensions to higher levels. The Pakistani government denies any such raid took place
Experts say Pakistan’s government insists the strikes did not take place, because if they did, they would be forced to respond. “The Pakistani military would be forced to retaliate in the event of a more prominent strike,” retired Indian Army Col. Ajai Shukla wrote in a New Delhi paper.
India and Pakistan then each expelled each other’s diplomats Oct. 27, charging each other with “espionage activity.” Indian Prime Minister Narenda Modi pulled out of a trade organization with Pakistan, and nationalist fervor continues to sweep the country. Indian film directors pledged not to cast Pakistani actors, and Pakistan has now outlawed any Indian television or radio shows.
Amid the nationalist fervor, experts fear Modi has left himself little choice but to escalate in the wake of another high-profile incident.
“When we get to the next terror attack, which is probably only a matter of time, the prime minister has boxed himself in, and he can’t take the route his predecessors did and choose to use solely diplomatic alternatives without some loss of face,” Brookings Institution fellow Bruce Riedel told The New York Times Oct. 23.
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