The Kashmir region lies in the northern part of India, to the northwest of Pakistan, to the east of China, and to the south of the Wakhan Corridor in Afghanistan.[i] India and Pakistan both claim the region in full, but only control parts of it, and have been in conflict over the region since their 1947 independence from British colonial rule.[ii] However, the conflict has intensified recently and the global community fears a potential outbreak of war from two nuclear-powered-rivals.[iii] On February 14, a suicide bomber from Jaish-e-Mohammed—a Pakistan-based terrorist organization—blew up a bus of Indian paramilitary police, killing more than forty security forces.[iv] Following the attack, India withdrew Pakistan’s “most favored nation” status, which increased tariffs on Pakistani exports by 200% because “[Pakistan] has not taken any action against these groups despite international demands.”[v] Between February 18-24, tit-for-tat actions by both governments left more than 10 people dead, and more than 160 people imprisoned.[vi]
On February 26, a dozen Indian jets initiated air strikes against a suspected Jaish-e-Mohammed training facility in the town of Balakot in the Kashmir region.[vii] This is where the use of alternative facts was used to begin de-escalating the conflict. The government claimed that the base was destroyed, and over 300 terrorists were killed, preventing an imminent attack against India.[viii] Vijay Keshav Gokhal, the Indian foreign secretary, stated that “a very large number of [Jaish-e-Mohammed] terrorists, trainers, senior commanders and groups of jihadis who were being trained for [suicide] action were eliminated.””[ix]
However, Asif Ghafoor, Major General of the Pakistani-armed forces tweeted pictures of the debris claiming the “hastily” planned attack missed Balakot and caused “[n]o casualties or damage.”[x] On the one hand, the Indian government claimed it executed an attack against the terrorists responsible for the suicide bombing, but on the other hand, Pakistani officials claimed the attack missed its target and no civilians were killed. One of the two countries must be correct, but the use of alternative facts may have prevented the conflict from worsening.
Despite its statement that only trees were damaged, Pakistan responded to India’s air invasion, specifically in the region they control in Kashmir.[xi] Pakistan shot down two Indian planes—that it claimed entered its territory—and captured an Indian pilot.[xii] Indian officials claimed that the pilot was shot down, only after shooting down a Pakistani F-16, which intruded Indian airspace.[xiii] Once again, the deception by the two governments allowed for some de-escalation of the conflict by altering the media perspective in each country.
Both sides have a lot more to gain from lying for each other, rather than selling the other country out on its lies.[xiv] The lies or alternative facts allow India to show that they are taking concrete action. Indians can treat the captured pilot as a hero, and can celebrate the take-down of a Jaish-e-Mohammed terrorist camp.[xv] However, the lies also have a lot of benefits to Pakistan. First, Pakistan can cover up the use of its F-16s because, if it did initiate the attack, it would have violated the purchase agreement with the United States[xvi] Second, the Pakistanis can celebrate their use of force, demonstrating their new prime minister is capable of standing up to Indian aggression in Kashmir.[xvii] Finally, the Pakistanis can gain international approval.[xviii] On March 1, the Pakistani government returned the captured Indian pilot, and the international community applauded this move—temporarily forgetting about the alleged terrorist group that Pakistan did not dispel.[xix]
While only time will tell whether the use of alternative facts prevented further conflict, the use of deception seems to have allowed de-escalation to begin, and slow the war path.
[i] The Editors of Encyclopedia Britannica, Kashmir: Region, Indian Subcontinent, Asia, Encyclopedia Britannica (Feb. 28, 2019) https://www.britannica.com/place/Kashmir-region-Indian-subcontinent [https://perma.cc/A469-7VWX].
[ii] Saheli Roy Choudhury, Timeline: India and Pakistan’s Latest Confrontation Over Kashmir, CNBC Asia Politics (Mar. 1, 2019) https://www.cnbc.com/2019/03/01/india-pakistan-conflict-timeline.html [https://perma.cc/W4A2-2DQF].
[vii] C. Christine Fair, India’s and Pakistan’s Lies Thwarted a War—For Now, The Atlantic (Mar. 8, 2019) https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2019/03/india-pakistan-kargil-kashmir/584392/ [https://perma.cc/3AAT-A6Y].
[ix] AFP News Agency, India-Pakistan Crisis Includes War on Facts and Alternative Facts, Aljazeera News (Mar. 9, 2019) https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2019/03/india-pakistan-crisis-includes-war-facts-alternative-facts-190309060825203.html [https://perma.cc/HV3F-V8TL].
[x] Maria Abi-Habib and Austin Ramzy, India Jets Strike in Pakistan in Revenge for Kashmir Attack, The New York Times (Feb. 25, 2019) https://www.nytimes.com/2019/02/25/world/asia/india-pakistan-kashmir-jets.html [https://perma.cc/7GL6-7TF3]
[xi] Fair, supra note 7.
[xiv] See Manveena Suri and Swati Gupta, India’s Most Important Election in Decades is Looming. Here’s What You Need to Know, CNN (Mar. 13, 2019) https://www.cnn.com/2019/02/15/asia/india-election-what-to-know-intl/index.html [https://perma.cc/S5ML-NJWX] (noting that Prime Minister Modi faces a tough election); see also Id. (noting that Pakistan’s new Prime Minister needs to show he can lead). In both countries, in times when they are facing tough domestic turmoil, peace between the two countries is preferable to conflict.
[xv] Fair, supra note 7.
[xvi] Id.; see also US Seeks Information on Pakistan’s Use of F-16 Against India in Violation of End-User Policy, Times Now New (Mar. 2, 2019) https://www.timesnownews.com/india/article/india-pakistan-tension-us-probing-pakistans-use-of-f-16-against-india/375350 [https://perma.cc/VLD8-SFC3].
[xvii] Fair, supra note 7.