Indian jets have crossed over to Pakistan Kashmir, but the nature of the incursion and, most importantly, the public reaction by Pakistan's military spokesperson confirms our view that escalation to a hot military conflict – defined as combat in excess of anything seen since the 1998 nuclear tests – remains unlikely. We laid out this same argument in our recent report: India, Pakistan: Escalation, emotion, context and MAD.
For the impact of this event on the probability of a hot military conflict, look at the public reaction of the Pakistan military: it does not read like "war talk". The Pakistan military’s spokesperson's (Major General Asif Ghafoor) stated that:
(1) no infrastructure or personnel was hit;
(2) the incursion was in the Pakistan-administered Kashmir (not, for example, the provinces of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa or Punjab); and
(3) Indian jets made a “hasty withdrawal” after Pakistan jets were scrambled;
This, as well as the public acknowledgement of an incursion (which did not occur when India claimed to have conducted surgical strikes in 2016), hardly amount to a rhetorical preparation for a counter-strike, let alone an escalation into a full-blown hot military conflict, irrespective of what actually took place and where exactly it took place.
For the impact of this event on Modi's prospects in the upcoming Indian election, look at mainstream media in India: the event appears to have met the demands for a "strong response" to the Pulwama attack. The nationalist fervour which preceded the Pulwama attack and intensified thereafter, the further intensification of the violent crackdown in Indian Kashmir, the killing in Indian Kashmir of the alleged "mastermind" behind the Pulwama attack, the reopening of judicial review of Article 35A of the Constitution (which effectively inhibits the dilution of the Kashmiri ethnic base in Indian Kashmir) and, now, this aerial encounter, all likely reinforce Modi's vote bank. This air force operation was described by the Indian Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale as targeting "the biggest Jaish-e-Mohammed training camp" and was similarly reported by all mainstream media.
A stream of nationalist messages on the social media channels of Bollywood celebrities has followed – we would not normally care about the reactions to such events from show business, but in the context of the populist reaction to events in election season we feel it is a relevant indicator. In the context of the unexpectedly competitive election in India, the degree to which PM Modi's ruling BJP enjoys a boost from this event should further reduce the probability investors attach to a hot military conflict scenario.
Pakistan Military spokesperson's statement:
Bollywood celebrity response: an indicator of the populist reaction: