Tensions on the border between India and Pakistan last week pushed the two nuclear-powered South Asian adversaries closer to conflict than at any point in the past two decades.
While the situation has calmed — Pakistan on Friday released an Indian air force pilot it captured after shooting his pane down — drastic swings in relations are the norm. Both countries know the risks when tensions spike.
Following their separation in 1947, relations between India and Pakistan have been in a near constant state of agitation. The two sides have fought several major wars — the last being in 1999 — involving thousands of casualties and numerous skirmishes across the Line of Control in the contested Kashmir region.
Since that last clash, both countries have quietly sought to enlarge and upgrade their military capabilities.
With its military buildup over those decades, India now exceeds Pakistan on most numerical measurements — fighter jets, troops, tanks and helicopters.
India far surpasses Pakistan in other measures, too, especially in military budget, $64 billion to $11 billion, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI).
But, as is often the case, numbers don’t tell the whole story.
India has about 3 million military personnel compared to fewer than 1 million for Pakistan, according to the International Institute for Strategic Studies, but New Delhi can’t focus them all on its neighbor to the west.
A chunk is focused on India’s northeast and its border with China.
“India’s strategic problem is bringing its heft to bear. It has traditionally had to split its forces and leave some in the east to deter Chinese adventurism,” said Peter Layton, a former Australian Air Force officer and now fellow at the Griffith Asia Institute.
In 1962, India and China engaged in a bloody border war and skirmishes have continued to break out sporadically throughout the subsequent years, most recently in the Doklam area in 2017.