Cities are cloaked in the darkness of blackouts, as millions look to the skies with the din of air raid siren tests ringing in their ears. They are unsure what fate will befall their loved ones and their homeland in days to come.
Not many of them trust the propaganda they are being fed in the news on either side of the India-Pakistan border.
But the frightening stories they hear of soldiers and militants being slaughtered in the embattled region of Kashmir, the reports of planes being shot down and bombs being dropped are often hazy and unverified in their details.
In India tonight, they are watch disturbing, shaky clips play out on social media showing one of their downed pilots being savagely beaten by Pakistani villagers in a baying mob.
Blood pours down his face and Indians in their thousands vent their anger in tirades online, unsure of what their countryman’s fate will be.
But one thing is becoming increasingly clear. If either of the nuclear-armed governments of India or Pakistan decide to take matters to the most extreme level — the lives of hundreds of millions of people are at stake.
Dr Claude Rakisits, an international affairs expert at the Australian National University, told news.com.au that Pakistan — a country of more than 200 million people — faces total annihilation if military action continues to intensify.
Although this level of military violence hasn’t been seen in decades, Dr Rakisits said it is “surprising but it’s also not surprising”, because the tension between both nations has always been there.
He compares this bloody and emotional feud to a fractured family who can no longer get along.
“The relationship between India and Pakistan is like two brothers, really it’s like a family,” he said. “But, there’s a lot of bad blood and it’s a very emotional situation.”
That bad blood, according to Dr Rakisits, goes back to the partition of British India — which created the two independent dominions of India and Pakistan 1947.
Pakistan was split into two parts, one of which was known as East Pakistan, and is now Bangladesh, after it seceded from West Pakistan in 1971 in a bloody war with the help of India.
“So Pakistan lost half of its country to India and that doesn’t make you friends,” said Dr Rakisits. “But the biggest issue which has created this bad blood from the very beginning was the partition.”
The bloody historic event displaced over 14 million people along religious lines — as Muslims moved north to Pakistan and Sikhs and Hundus moved south towards India — and millions are estimated to have died in the violence which came about as a result.
“They both never got over that,” said Dr Rakisits. “And, in the eyes of the international community, Pakistan has always been seen as the one who divorced or split away from Mother India, which meant they got left behind in a lot of ways.”
Flash forward more than seven decades later, this bitter and ugly divide is rearing its head largely because of disputed state which has so often brought both nations to boiling point — Kashmir.
The stunning region nestled in the Himalayas which has been a major drawcard for tourists between bouts of intense fighting and simmering tension.
There have already been three wars over Kashmir, in 1947, 1965 — which featured the largest tank battle since World War II — and in 1999.
‘THE END OF PAKISTAN’
Dr Rakisits says that if a fourth war breaks out in the coming days and weeks and the unthinkable happens, which is one of the nations deciding to use nuclear weapons, then it would be “the end of Pakistan”.
“It’s a possibility, emotions are high there’s a total blackout in Lahore, which is an hour’s drive from the border and Karachi is under high security because they think something will happen,” he said.
“Pakistan has made very clear it has nuclear weapons and it will use them if it feels threatened and that’s its trump card.”
However, President Modi doesn’t know how powerful these weapons are, meaning he must retaliate very carefully because if India decides to enter Pakistan using an armoured formation it would trigger a nuclear exchange, according to Dr Rakisits.
“If Pakistan considers it a existential crisis, they will go nuclear,” he said. “They might say if we’re going down, you’re coming with us.”
THE NEW FACE OF SIMMERING CONFLICT
This highly emotional and bitter feud described by Dr Rakisits can be seen on graphic display in disturbing new images of a downed Indian fighter pilot who was brutally attacked by a mob of villagers and then paraded on video by Pakistan’s army.
The visceral images — uploaded onto social media after Pakistan’s military shot down two Indian warplanes and captured the pilot on Wednesday — have now gone viral stoking tensions to levels not seen for decades.
In a video on Twitter, a soldier can be seen trying to protect the pilot from bloodthirsty villagers — screaming “enough” as they throw wild punches at his head and body.
India’s foreign ministry have branded the videos “vulgar display” and accuse their neighbours of violating international humanitarian law and the Geneva Convention.
“Pakistan would be well advised to ensure that no harm comes to the Indian defence personnel in its custody,” it said in a statement.
“India also expects his immediate and safe return.”
CYNICAL REASON BEHIND THE CONFLICT
Dr Rakisits said that one of the reasons the conflict has suddenly flared up is that the Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi, is currently in “election mode”.
“His big platform is that he’s tough on terror, he’s tough on the Pakistanis so he has to prove himself, so the timing is shocking,” he said.
Across the border in Pakistan, almost the opposite situation faces Prime Minister Imran Khan, who was only elected last year.
However, this means he is still trying to prove himself, according to Dr Rakisitsa, and that’s a tough gig in a country which is being plagued by almost every issue imaginable from shortages of food and water, to overpopulation and terrorism.
AIRPORT CHAOS AS AIRSPACE CLOSES
Thousands of passengers are stranded as more than a dozen flights between Thailand and Europe have been cancelled after Pakistan closed its airspace amid escalating tensions with India over Kashmir.
Thai Airways said all flights to and from Europe were suspended late Wednesday and early Thursday before a new route can be found, with other airlines also reportedly suspending and rescheduling flights.
The schedules of other South-East Asian airports are also likely to be affected. The European cities affected included London, Munich, Paris, Brussels, Milan, Vienna, Stockholm, Zurich, Copenhagen, Oslo, Frankfurt and Rome. Indian fighter jets on Wednesday crossed the Line of Control (LoC) dividing Indian-administered Kashmir from the Pakistan-controlled area and were shot down by the Pakistani air force, which captured an Indian pilot.
— with wires