"Thereís obviously great concern that this could grow into a more serious conflict," says TIME U.N. correspondent William Dowell. "With tensions already so high after the Kashmir crisis itís disturbing that Indian jets would shoot down a propeller-driven Pakistani plane rather than force it out of their air space. Such an action looks calculated to increase tension rather than reduce it." Although Pakistan and India have developed extensive mechanisms to prevent their constant low-level clashes spiraling into war, the latest confrontation only widens the danger. Despite Pakistanís withdrawal from the Indian side of Kashmir last month, there has been an intensification of fighting there in recent weeks between the Indian army and Pakistan-backed Kashmiri separatists. Thatís been accompanied by a spate of bomb attacks by separatists Ė- which India alleges are backed by Pakistan Ė- in the Indian state of Assam. The latest confrontation has put both sides on high alert along the border between the Pakistani state of Sindh and the Indian state of Gujarat. Despite the best intentions of both Islamabad and New Delhi to prevent limited clashes from spiraling into war, there are now three fronts on which they could make costly mistakes.
Hey, we're like the proverbial piano player in this one, okay? The international press found itself momentarily under fire Wednesday when an Indian helicopter ferrying journalists reportedly came under fire from Pakistan. Having hardly cooled since the recent Kashmir crisis, tensions between the old enemies went straight back to boiling point Tuesday after Indian jets shot down a Pakistani reconnaissance aircraft along a disputed coastal border. India and Pakistan both claim the plane was in their air space, and each side rushed to produce scraps of debris Wednesday to prove their point. While both newly nuclear states vowed, through gritted teeth, to avoid escalation into full-scale hostilities, both sides have placed their military forces on full alert. Pakistan admitted firing a missile at Indian aircraft Wednesday, but said the target was Indian jets rather than the journalistsí helicopters.