Kashmiris clash with Indian Forces after a curfew was lifted in Srinagar on 10 March 2019. A shutdown was enforced in and around the Old City to protest against the summoning of chief cleric Mirwaiz Umar Farooq in a terror funding case. Photo: Muzamil Mattoo / Nur Photo / AFP

Retaliatory violence has escalated in Indian-controlled Kashmir following the suicide attack in Pulwama district on February 14 that killed dozens of Indian paramilitary personnel.

The attack by terrorist group Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) has contributed to greatly increased volatility, with Pakistan deploying a squadron of its newest fighter jets along its long border with India in Kashmir, known as the Line of Control (LoC).

While India, Pakistan and the international community need to focus on the fact that the Pulwama attack was carried out by JeM, a terrorist group that is not linked to any state, the attack has been perceived through a nationalistic lens and it has led to dangerous levels of  military activity along the border.

The situation in Kashmir is still extremely tense and it has the potential to spill over into the broader South Asian and Indo-Pacific landscape. India’s air strike on a JeM camp in Balakot led the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) to deploy an entire squadron of F-16 fighters along its eastern border. The squadron remains on full operational alert.

Rise of militarism

Just two days after the Pulwama attack, the Indian Air Force (IAF) demonstrated its firepower at the Pokhran (Rajasthan) firing range near India’s international border with Pakistan. Exercise Vayu Shakti-2019 took place at a pre-scheduled time, yet coincidentally IAF Air Chief Marshal B S Dhanoa reportedly said that the IAF was prepared to give the enemy an “appropriate response” as “directed by India’s political leadership.”

The Vayu Shakti training exercise involved the participation of 138 aircraft, including 81 fighter jets, which conducted a simulated attack on enemy air and ground targets.

Indian armed forces seem to  have suspected further intrusion attempts by Pakistani drones into the Rajasthan and Gujarat border regions.

While Pakistan deployed a squadron of its newest  JF-17 fighter jets, which were jointly developed with China and boast “informized warfare” capabilities, in a dogfight with Indian fighter aircraft near the Line of Control.

The current trend toward growing militarization will exacerbate the security atmospherics in the South Asian and Indo-Pacific region

Meanwhile, India announced that it has signed a US$3 billion deal with Russia which will allow it to lease a nuclear-powered attack submarine for the Indian Navy for up to 10 years in view of its heightened perceptions of a threat from the China-Pakistan axis in the Indo-Pacific. The Indian Navy hopes to acquire Russia’s Akula-class submarine, which will be known in India as Chakra III, by 2025.

The Chakra III deal came shortly after a joint Indo-Russian production facility to manufacture AK-203 assault rifles for the Indian Army was agreed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

The current trend toward growing militarization will exacerbate the security atmospherics in the South Asian and Indo-Pacific region. In October last year, India had already signed a multibillion-dollar deal with Russia to procure the S-400 air defense missile system.

Nationalism on rise

After the Pulwama terror attack, a rise in Indian nationalistic feelings is discernible. Many Indian readers were annoyed by the initial description of the attack in The New York Times as merely an “explosion.” There has also been lots of analysis of how international media have depicted the conflict.

In an analysis of more than two dozen New York Times articles relating to India and Pakistan after the Pulwama attack, Professor Vamsee Juluri, who teaches media studies at the University of San Francisco, said that headlines typically painted India as an aggressive and inept actor in the conflict, in comparison to Pakistani which was  described as having “fortitude, character, and a fantastic military, too.”

In India, television channels were instructed by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting to remain cautious with regard to any content which was likely to encourage or incite violence or contained anything that might lead to breakdown in law and order or which promoted anti-national attitudes and/or contained anything affecting the integrity of the nation following the attack.

While Pakistan’s oldest newspaper, Dawn, reported on how the attack could further strain ties between India and Pakistan, many other prominent newspapers characterized the perpetrators of the attack as “freedom fighters” and described the location of the attack being in “Indian-occupied Kashmir.” One Pakistani media outlet published a report of the attack which described the bombers as: “Refusing to bow down to the ever-increasing Indian brutalities in Occupied Kashmir, the freedom fighters on Thursday struck back hard.” Such reports were clearly geared to depict the conflict in a specific way and were designed  to promote Pakistani nationalism.

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