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Pakistan Says It Shot Down Indian Jets

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

World leaders are urging India and Pakistan to show restraint. Well, they might. Those countries are both nuclear powers. And Indian warplanes struck inside Pakistani-controlled territory yesterday. Today Pakistan says it shot down two Indian planes. This has all happened in the divided region of Kashmir, which both countries have fought over for more than 70 years. On the line with us now is Sameer Lalwani. He is South Asia director and Asia strategy senior fellow with the Stimson Center, which is an international security think tank. And he is in New Delhi.

We're glad to find you there. Welcome to the program.

SAMEER LALWANI: Thanks for having me.

INSKEEP: What is it like to be in India's capital as all this is happening?

LALWANI: It's a little more nerve-wracking than sitting on the sidelines in Washington, D.C. I'll say that the anxiety is a little more palpable when you're hearing about the possibility that airstrikes could start to, you know, actually affect, you know, where you are.

INSKEEP: And is this the only thing people are talking about where you are?

LALWANI: Pretty much - I think this has drowned out everything, even though this is election season in India. I mean, this was a central election issue. And it has, basically, consumed all the news that I've seen in the last two days.

INSKEEP: Now, I'm glad you mentioned a central election issue. This is a longstanding conflict between the two countries over who should control this mountainous province of Kashmir. There have been wars in the past. Periodically, we hear of gunfire. How serious, though, is this escalation?

LALWANI: This is the most serious, I think, in, potentially, 50 years. Now, other than the Kargil War in 1999, this - the strike that India conducted in - yesterday was escalatory in a couple of ways. It was outside of Pakistani-administered Kashmir. And it was the use of air power - the first independent use of air power in about 20 years. So it's much bigger than it had been the last, you know, two decades and possibly could get worse.

INSKEEP: Well, I'm trying to figure out here if this is spiraling towards some kind of disastrous war or, really, an effort to let off steam and avoid a war. Our correspondent Lauren Frayer, who's based in India, notes that a couple of weeks ago, there was a terrorist attack across the border in India. And there was immense pressure from the Indian public to respond somehow. Do you see that point of view?

LALWANI: I think people have certainly claimed that. It's quite possible it's true. But it's also politically convenient at times. So it's hard to disassociate the two. Certainly, there's a desire to let off steam. But, typically, the way that plays out in the India-Pakistan border is on the line of control with mortar fire and artillery at times. But this is substantially different. This is, you know, two planes being shot down - or at least two planes being shot down on either side and, you know, a level of escalation, again, that hasn't been seen in 20 years.

INSKEEP: How would you get out of this if Indian officials or Pakistani officials, for that matter, would call you up and ask?

LALWANI: Wow. That's a tough one. I think at some level, it requires leadership on both sides to recognize that they have reestablished deterrence to a degree but that in the long run, the escalation cycle is going to be much worse for both sides. And so they're better off trying to find a way to climb down.

INSKEEP: Do you think both sides are inclined to when they can?

LALWANI: It's tough. Both sides have tried to tie their hands with their domestic public. They enhanced their credibility. So as a result, it is pretty difficult to climb down. It might require some third-party mediation or, you know, a third-party (unintelligible) by the United States and/or China to create some incentives and some cover for those leaders to be able to climb down if they can't do it themselves.

INSKEEP: Sameer Lalwani of the Stimson Center in New Delhi, thanks. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.