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Further Escalation

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According to reports, two Indian Air Force pilots have been captured when their plane crashed across the LOC during a dogfight. The Pakistanis claim that its Air Force had undertaken a ‘strike’ in Indian Territory to demonstrate their ability to replicate what the IAF did in Balakot. Quite obviously, the IAF pilots were chasing after these aircraft and ended up being shot down across the LOC. The Indians have also claimed to have downed an F-16 of the PAF. The end result is that, instead of fighting the terrorists that brought about this stand-off in the first place, the Armed Forces of the two countries are squaring off in what promises to be an even more ugly confrontation. Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan has asked for a dialogue after his demonstration of ‘equal power’. Except for the fact that he presently has possibly two Indian pilots as hostage, he does not have any cards in the game. Since these air warriors were shot down in the performance of their duty to protect Indian air space, which Pakistan admits to having violated, they should properly be returned to India without delay. If this is not done promptly enough, India just has another grouse against its neighbour and is very likely to respond in an even more ferocious way. This is an opportunity for Pakistan to exhibit its sincerity regarding a return to normalcy and, maybe then, matters will cool down. But the big question still remains. Will the recent developments prompt Pakistan to re-examine its strategic philosophy? This depends on how effective the proactive approach adopted by India has been. Did it scare the ruling establishment? Did they feel threatened enough? How has it affected public opinion and to what extent will that influence those in power? Or, has the shooting down of the IAF aircraft restored their belief they can hold off the Indians? Are they and the terrorists confident there is no more coming in the way of surgical and deep penetration strikes? Past behaviour does not give confidence in such a scenario. It is likely that Pakistan will try and prolong the negotiations on returning the Indian pilots. This will worsen the mood in India and all sorts of unpredictable developments are likely. It is, however, also an opportunity – as the present generation has not experienced war and tends to take its national identity for granted. It too should have a stake in building and strengthening the nation – come what may.