Nuclear powers India and Pakistan on red alert

Bad blood: The regional rivals have gone to war twice over Kashmir since 1947.

The world holds its breath as Pakistan shoots down an Indian jet and the two historic enemies trade threats. A top scientist has warned that war between them could cause two billion deaths.

07:36 Pakistan claims it has shot down two Indian fighter jets and captured an Indian pilot. 07:43 Pakistan shuts down its airspace. 08:05 India claims to have shot down a Pakistani fighter jet. 08:19 Stock markets in India and Pakistan nosedive. 09:09 Pakistan releases video of a captured Indian pilot with blood on his face.

10:19 Pakistan releases a photo of the burning wing of an Indian jet. 10:20 Pakistan’s former interior minister, claims that Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is deliberately stoking hostilities to win votes in an April election. 10:26 Pakistan’s prime minister, Imran Khan, addresses the nation on TV.

11:19 Meeting of the National Command Authority that controls Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal. 12:19 Indian’s prime minister meets his heads of security and intelligence. 13:40 India demands the safe return of its pilot. 14:48 US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo pleads with India and Pakistan to avoid “further military activity”.

Two nuclear powers, the second and the sixth biggest nations by population on our planet, seemingly hurtling towards war.

Yesterday, with nightfall, came respite. Today, the world holds its breath, well aware of the furnace that could so easily be sparked in the tinder-dry litter of grievances that lie between Asia’s historic enemies after generations of mutual distrust.

Divided by religion (Pakistan 97% Muslim, India 80% Hindu), torn apart by history, with their armies facing each other across a 460-mile disputed border known as the “line of control”, their media and politicians trading accusations day after day, the main quarrel between Pakistan and India is the disputed region of Kashmir.

Former US President Bill Clinton called Kashmir “the most dangerous place in the world”. Part of the reason is that Pakistan has a history of close support from China and India has defence agreements with America with a clear risk of both superpowers being drawn into a wider war.

The US atmospheric scientist Brian Toon predicts that even a small-scale nuclear war between India and Pakistan would cover the entire Earth with smoke, destroying up to 40% of global yields of corn, wheat and rice for years afterward and killing about two billion people through starvation.

Back from the brink

With stakes so high, will sense prevail? Millions have taken to Twitter to #saynotowar. The prime minister of Pakistan tried to calm things down calling yesterday for “sense and wisdom”.

But doesn’t history offer chilling warnings? The Football War, the Kettle War, the War of Jenkins’ Ear, the Anglo-Abyssinian War — all deadly conflicts fought for reasons far more trivial than what is happening today between Pakistan and India.

You Decide

  1. Do you think humans will ever see sense and give up fighting wars?
  2. Are more wars fought over matters that are trivial or important?


  1. Draw your own map of India, Pakistan and Nepal. Colour in the disputed region of Kashmir.
  2. Research the meaning of “partition” in relation to India and Pakistan using the Expert Links. Write a 200-word summary of what partition was.

Some People Say...

“Well, India is a country of nonsense”

Mahatma Gandhi

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
We know the history. Even before India and Pakistan won their independence from Britain in August 1947, Kashmir was hotly contested. Under the partition plan provided by the Indian Independence Act, Kashmir was free to accede to India or Pakistan. The local ruler, Hari Singh, chose India and a two-year war erupted in 1947. A new war followed in 1965. Then, in 1999 India fought a short but bitter conflict with Pakistani-backed forces.
What do we not know?
What really happened yesterday. Pakistan says it has shot down two Indian military jets and captured a pilot. But India disputes this.

Word Watch

Nuclear powers
Nine nations — the United States, Russia, the United Kingdom, France, China, India, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea — possess approximately 16,300 nuclear weapons in total.
A contested territory sitting in-between Pakistan and India. Both own part of the territory. The Himalayan region is one of the most militarised zones in the world.
The Football War
A brief war fought between El Salvador and Honduras coincided with rioting during a 1970 FIFA World Cup qualifier.
The Kettle War
A military confrontation between the troops of the Holy Roman Empire and the Republic of the Seven Netherlands on October 8, 1784. It was named the Kettle War because the only shot fired hit a soup kettle.
War of Jenkins’ Ear
A war between Britain and Spain lasting from 1739 to 1748. The name refers to the ear severed from Robert Jenkins, a captain of a British merchant ship, said to have sparked the conflict.
Anglo-Abyssinian War
A hugely expensive rescue mission carried out in 1868 by the armed forces of the British Empire against Emperor Tewodros II of Ethiopia who had imprisoned several missionaries and two representatives of the British government.


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