What will trigger the next crisis in South Asia? Conventional wisdom holds that it will follow a script common to successive crises since the early 1990s. The pattern starts with a high-casualty terror attack in India, attributed to Pakistan-based militant groups with a long history of carrying out cross-border operations, which then puts the onus on India to calibrate escalation in its response. Just because nearly every crisis between India and Pakistan in the last three decades began with an act of cross-border terrorism, however, does not mean that other potential catalysts should be neglected.
One intriguing alternative deserves scrutiny: Instead of an attack in India that initiates crisis, what if one arose following a proactive Indian operation to seize territory over the Line of Control (LOC) in the portion of the disputed territory of Kashmir controlled by Pakistan? Indian leaders have contemplated such operations in the past, and the current government in India has demonstrated its willingness to take considerable risks, including in the February 2019 crisis. Moreover, New Delhi’s August 2019 decision to revoke the special constitutional status of Kashmir underscores its willingness to reconsider long-standing norms and practices. If the next crisis starts with an Indian operation, the odds are much greater that it will escalate quickly to war for reasons that the conventional South Asia crisis wisdom tends to discount.