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India, Pak claim to shoot down each other’s jets, IAF pilot in Pak custody

Pakistan responded on Wednesday to an Indian air strike on a Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) terror camp the previous day, even as the two sides claimed to have downed the other’s fighter planes, and Pakistan captured an Indian pilot, escalating tensions between the two countries.

india Updated: Feb 28, 2019 04:33 IST
HT Correspondents
HT Correspondents
New Delhi
The IAF shot down a Pakistani F-16 fighter jet that intruded into Indian air space in Nowshera sector of Rajouri district in Jammu and Kashmir, according to external affairs ministry spokesman Raveesh Kumar.
The IAF shot down a Pakistani F-16 fighter jet that intruded into Indian air space in Nowshera sector of Rajouri district in Jammu and Kashmir, according to external affairs ministry spokesman Raveesh Kumar.(PTI/Picture for representation)
         

Pakistan responded on Wednesday to an Indian air strike on a Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) terror camp the previous day, even as the two sides claimed to have downed the other’s fighter planes, and Pakistan captured an Indian pilot, escalating tensions between the two countries.

The Indian Air Force (IAF) shot down a Pakistani F-16 fighter jet that intruded into Indian air space in the Nowshera sector of Rajouri district in Jammu and Kashmir, according to external affairs ministry spokesman Raveesh Kumar, who said the wreckage of the plane fell on the Pakistan side of the LoC, and more Pakistani warplanes were forced to return by the Indian aerial riposte. According to the spokesman, India lost one MiG-21 Bison fighter while successfully repelling the Pakistan attempt to attack military installations.

Meanwhile, Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan said that two Indian MiG planes crossed the border. “They were shot down. The pilots are with us,” he said. Pakistan later said it had only one captain who, according to videos released by Pakistan, has been identified as wing commander Abhinandan Varthaman.

It also denied having lost an F-16. Major General Asif Ghafoor, spokesman for the Pakistan military, said that IAF planes “strayed into Pakistani airspace” after its air strikes and that two Indian pilots had been taken into custody.

Pakistan first released a video that showed a blindfolded man identifying himself as Varthaman, and then of the officer refusing to answer specific questions about the nature of his operation.

India asked Pakistan to ensure the immediate release and safe return of the IAF pilot, characterising Pakistan’s act of releasing photographs and videos of the officer as a “vulgar display”of an injured personnel and a violation of all norms of International Humanitarian Law and the Geneva Conventions.

The ministry of external affairs earlier in the day summoned Pakistan’s deputy high commissioner Syed Haider Shah to lodge a strong protest over an attempt by Pakistan Air Force to attack Indian military installations. PM Narendra Modi held meetings with the three service chiefs, National Security Adviser Ajit Doval and the heads of the intelligence establishment, twice on Wednesday, including late in the evening.

The details of the meetings were not immediately known. India said Pakistan’s “unprovoked act of aggression” targeting military installations was in sharp contrast to its own non-military anti-terror pre-emptive strike on Tuesday on a JeM camp in Balakot in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.

“It is unfortunate that instead of fulfilling its international obligation and bilateral commitment to take credible action against terrorist entities and individuals operating from its soil, Pakistan has acted with aggression against India,” the statement said. New Delhi said that Pakistani fighter jets tried to target its military installations on Wednesday morning but their attempts were foiled by the IAF.

“Due to our high state of readiness and alertness, Pakistan’s attempts were foiled successfully,” Raveesh Kumar said. India said that Pakistani fighter jets were detected and the Indian Air Force responded instantly.

Pakistan said in the morning that its air force carried out strikes on the Indian side of LoC “from within Pakistani airspace”. In a statement titled “Pakistani Strikes Back”, Islamabad said: “This was not a retaliation to continued Indian belligerence. Pakistan has therefore, taken strikes at non military target, avoiding human loss and collateral damage. Sole purpose being to demonstrate our right, will and capability for self defence.”

Imran Khan, however, conceded that Pakistani jets had indeed crossed the de-facto border in what he called “a demonstration of our capabilities” after the pre-dawn air strike by the IAF on Tuesday.

“We didn’t take action on Tuesday morning because we weren’t aware of the damage caused by air strike by India. We did not want to cause much collateral damage in India when there was not much damage on our side. The only motive of Pakistan’s strike today was to demonstrate that we have the capability to hit back,” he said.

Khan mixed the tough talk with a renewed attempt at reconciliation: “All the wars have happened due to miscalculation. With all the weapons that you [India] and we [Pakistan] have, can we afford to miscalculate? If it escalates, neither I nor Mr Narendra Modi would be in a position to control its course. This is why I suggest that better sense should prevail.”

The Indian air strike on the JeM terrorist camp was in retaliation for the February 14 suicide car bombing in Pulwama that left 40 men of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) dead.

Following Wednesday morning’s developments, the national capital Delhi was put on high alert and sensitive facilities such as the Metro were put under closer watch.

In Wuzhen, China, to attend the 16th Russia, India and China (RIC) foreign ministers’ forum, Indian external affairs minister, Sushma Swaraj, said: “I am visiting China at a time when there is grief and anger in India. It [Pulwama] is the worst terrorist attack directed against our security forces in Jammu and Kashmir.”

Swaraj also sounded a note of restraint, stressing that “India does not wish to see a further escalation of the situation and India will continue to act with responsibility and restraint”. China’s foreign minister, Wang Yi , said: “On recent developments between India and Pakistan, China appreciates the statements by Indian and Pakistani friends saying that they would exercise restraint and avoid escalation of the situation.”

UN chief, Antonio Guterres, is following the situation between India and Pakistan “very closely” and has appealed to the governments of both nations to exercise “maximum restraint” to ensure the situation does not deteriorate further, a UN official said on Tuesday.

The US on Tuesday told Pakistan to avoid “military action” in the aftermath of India’s “counterterrorism action” on the Jaish’s Balakot camp. US secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, who is in Hanoi for the second US-North Korea summit, conveyed these messages in separate phone calls with Swaraj and Pakistan’s foreign minister, Shah Mehmood Qureshi, the state department said in a statement.

In India, 21 opposition parties expressed “deep concern over for the safety of the missing Indian pilot” and “condemned Pakistani misadventure” but also expressed “deep anguish” over the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party’s “blatant politicisation” of the sacrifices made by Indian armed forces.

First Published: Feb 28, 2019 00:47 IST

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