India accused Pakistan of planning an incursion by some 600 heavily-armed guerrillas, including what the Indian authorities call "Afghan mercenaries." (Many Kashmiri Islamic fighters are trained in the Afghan camps run by alleged terrorist mastermind Osama Bin Laden, which were targeted by U.S. missiles last year.) Pakistan denies the charge. Tensions in Kashmir have mounted over the past year, but the air strikes mark a dramatic escalation. India and Pakistan have fought three wars in 52 years, two of them over Kashmir. A festering border dispute could take on new meaning now that both sides have nuclear weapons and the medium-range missiles with which to deliver them.
Skirmishes between India and Pakistan in Kashmir may be business as usual, but the international community gets a little nervous when the world's newest nuclear states start launching air strikes. And that may be exactly why the stakes are being raised. Indian bombers and helicopter gunships attacked hundreds of suspected Pakistan-backed infiltrators Wednesday, with some of the bombs landed on the Pakistani side of the border. "This was the largest incursion into India since 1948, and the object is less military than political," says TIME New Delhi correspondent Maseeh Rahman. "By the choice of terrain, this looks less like an attempt to capture territory than a means of keeping international focus on Kashmir. Pakistan is concerned that if things remain quiet in the region, the world will forget about the long-standing dispute over the territory." Wednesday's escalation brought tensions between the two countries to a fever pitch, as Pakistan's military threatened to retaliate and India warned it to stay out of the battle.