The latest India-Pakistan standoff over Kashmir was limited to a few aerial skirmishes and cross-border shelling, but the two nuclear powers were tempted to use their missile arsenals at one point, according to a media report.
At the height of the renewed hostilities in the contested Kashmir region, New Delhi threatened to launch its missiles at Pakistan, while Islamabad said it would respond with its own missile strikes “three times over,” Reuters reported, citing Western diplomats, as well as Pakistani, Indian, and American government sources.
In February, Pakistani-based militant group Jaish-e-Mohammed bombed an Indian Army convoy, killing dozens of troops. India responded with airstrikes targeting the group’s hideouts in the Pakistani-controlled part of Kashmir, triggering retaliatory strikes and a series of dogfights in which an Indian pilot was shot down and captured by Pakistan.
As tensions mounted, India vowed to fire six missiles on specific targets inside Pakistan. That intention was separately confirmed by a Pakistani minister and a Western diplomat in Islamabad.
Predictably, Pakistan said it would counter any missile attacks with many more launches. “We said if you will fire one missile, we will fire three. Whatever India will do, we will respond three times to that,” an unnamed Pakistani minister told Reuters.
Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan inadvertently confirmed that the worst-case scenario could have played out. “I know last night there was a threat there could be a missile attack on Pakistan, which got defused,” Khan told the parliament in late February. “I know our army stood prepared for retaliation of that attack.”
Reuters’ sources said the release of the downed Indian pilot, Abhinandan Varthaman, helped ease the growing animosity between the arch-rivals. However, there were sporadic artillery duels in late February and early March, in which several civilians were killed on both sides of the border.
India has a sizeable strategic force with short- to intermediate-range ballistic missiles able to hit any location in Pakistan. Likewise, the Pakistani military has an array of rockets enabling retaliatory strikes if all-out war breaks out.
Two weeks on, both nuclear powers continue to flex their military muscle. Earlier this week, India showcased the Pinaka Mk II, the newest version of a guided rocket artillery system. The Indian test coincided with Pakistan showing off a new domestically developed extended-range air-to-surface projectile mounted on a JF-17 Thunder, a Chinese-Pakistani fighter jet.