The horizon is not so far as we can see, but as far as we can imagine

India and Pakistan Trade Air Strikes

So yesterday, India attacked a training camp for insurgents and terrorists in Pakistan. Today, Pakistan dropped some bombs on what appears to be largely empty ground in Kashmir.

Pakistan claims to have shot down two Indian jets and captured a pilot.

Both Pakistan and India have nuclear weapons, but the conventional Indian military and the Indian economy are both much stronger than Pakistan’s. Pakistan has, historically, sought to overcome this deficit through unconventional warfare: Insurgency and terrorism. (Most spectacularly, the Mumbai attacks.)

India’s initial strike was a clear violation of sovereignty, and I don’t see that Pakistan had much choice but to retaliate. (This doesn’t mean I agree with their support for insurgents and terrorists in India.)

But perhaps the most important thing to remember is that it’s election season in India, and that military strikes and patriotism could reasonably be expected to redound to the benefit of the incumbent party.

There’s always risk when nuclear powers start playing tit-for-tat games. Pakistan, in particular, knows that it is weaker and their nuclear doctrine recognizes that it’s only that deterrence which stops the Indians from defeating them in a conventional war.

Still, the most likely outcome is more escalation and then de-escalation once the political benefits of sabre-rattling are sufficient.

Let’s hope that is the case.

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  1. YumYum

    JeM attack on Indian security forces convoy in mid-February. Deadliest single attack since the conflict began?

  2. Tom

    Two Indian Pilots captured now, with a third said to be on the loose.

    India’s airstrike yesterday hit nothing as they had to abort the attack run when Pakistan scrambled its F-16s.

    Pakistan always had the better airforce in its conflicts with India, having inherited all the best Pilots when the Raj was broken up and they maintained that edge even at the expense of their Army.

    India due to fighting several insurgencies besides Kashmir, lacks the resources to devote to a war they know they will lose as China backs Pakistan and will intervene if necessary.

    Frankly Kashmir should have gone to Pakistan, but Indian Duplicity resulted in the conflict raging today. The situation in Kashmir for Kashmiris is much like how the Palestinians are treated and the Indian Government holds no one accountable for abuses.

    Well, its up to China to calm things down or not.

  3. Raymond G Eliason

    As has been pointed out elsewhere, this is considered a refutation of Mearshimer\’s nuclear peace thesis; the addition of nuclear weapons has made at least one party more belligerent.

  4. Stirling S Newberry

    It is a conflict among two duplicitous liars.

  5. wendy davis

    with all due respect, this: “India attacked a training camp for insurgents and terrorists in Pakistan”, might better read “alleged training camp”.

    but it’s akin to bolton-speak to me: ‘John Bolton Greenlights Indian Military Attack on Pakistan’, feb. 17, 2019

    you might also want to consider: ‘Pakistan-India showdown: What you’re not being told’,

    wikileaks has a lot of cables up now, as well.

  6. Hugh

    Sterling is on a roll. Tom’s fantasy histories are always enjoyable to read. Pakistan’s superior air force no doubt explains why Pakistan lost all four wars it has fought with India in 1947, 1965, 1971, and 1999.

    I would just add that, while it is unlikely that this series of incidents will spiral into another war, both these countries are increasingly unstable. So it is not so much if but when another major, possibly nuclear, conflict will erupt.

  7. Tom


    I said the Airforce was good, I said nothing about the Army. Every last fight between Pakistan and India was under Pakistani Air Superiority which did nothing to alter the ground facts due to the terrain which handily masks large troop movements. Despite that, the Pakistani Army successfully pushed India from Lahore during the 65 war which is the closest they ever came to a clear and decisive defeat leading up to debellatio if India had pulled it off.

    Also, Pakistan controls a substantial piece of Kashmir which has never changed hands since they took it in 47. Only Bangladesh managed to break away which isn’t surprising as it is way out on the other side of the Subcontinent and the people there wanted out from Islamabad.

    As things stand, Pakistan controls all the high ground of Kashmir and 30% of its territory, India controls 50%, and China 20% of the historical state of Kashmir-Jammu.

    This has not once changed despite several wars. So the correct word is stalemate, with the exception of Bangladesh’s successful revolution.

    That said, Pakistan is releasing one of the pilots back to India, the other is in the Hospital due to injuries caused by a mob before the Pakistani Army could intervene.

    So far both sides have not inflicted any real pain on the other. India’s airstrikes missed, Pakistan deliberately missed with its retaliatory strikes, and other than some mortar and HMG exchanges with few losses, this is likely to die down in a few days once Indian Politicians milk this for all its worth.

    I wouldn’t get worked up over this unless Modi radically escalates, in which case China will step in.

  8. Chiron

    I read some conspiracies theories that Pakistan actually doesn’t have nuclear weapons, is just to scare India and make Pakistani people more confident in their country. Is almost believable because if Pakistan really has nukes you would hear much more noise from the usual suspects.

  9. Hugh

    As anyone can see by the million Uighurs China keeps in concentration camps, China is the great defender of Moslems in the world and will intervene anywhere they are threatened. /s

  10. Stirling S Newberry

    China is a great defender of your Muslims, just not there own.

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