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India, Pakistan must pull back from brink

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After two days of strikes across their heavily armed border, India and Pakistan gave utterance to some words of peace. "Let's sit together and settle this with talks," Prime Minister Imran Khan said yesterday, hours after Pakistani jets carried out strikes at a "non-military target" in India-controlled Kashmir and claimed to have shot down two Indian planes. India made no direct response to his call. But Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj, attending previously planned talks with her Chinese and Russian counterparts, said earlier in the day that New Delhi did not wish to see a further escalation of the situation. Her remarks came a day after India bombed terrorist camps deep inside Pakistan for the first time since their 1971 war. India said it killed "a very large number" of terrorists planning suicide bombings. Both nations have asserted their attacks caused no civilian casualties.

Claims and counter-claims are part of the pattern in subcontinental encounters. Such words were heard after India's "surgical strikes" in 2016 in response to a militant attack that India blamed on Pakistan. That incident did not lead to an escalation in tensions. Will this time be different? The prognosis is grimmer partly because on Tuesday, India markedly redefined the conflict by sending its fighter jets past the disputed territory of Kashmir and beyond its international border with Pakistan. In the past, India made sure to muffle comments after attacks to stub out a retaliatory spiral.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 28, 2019, with the headline India, Pakistan must pull back from brink. Subscribe