Updated at 11:31 a.m. ET on 2019-03-01
India and Pakistan claimed they shot down each other’s warplanes over the disputed Kashmir region on Wednesday, a day after Indian officials said that their jets had destroyed a terror camp in Pakistani territory.
The aerial engagements came two weeks after a suicide bombing killed at least 40 government troops in Indian-administered Kashmir, in an attack claimed by Pakistan-based militants.
Pakistan said it downed two Indian fighter jets after they crossed the boundary in Kashmir, while India claimed to have shot down a Pakistani warplane that violated its airspace in the Nowshera sector of the troubled Himalayan region.
India confirmed it had lost one MiG-21 fighter jet in an aerial engagement with the Pakistani Air Force, and said that one of its pilots was missing.
“PAF shot down two Indian aircrafts inside Pakistani airspace,” tweeted Maj. Gen. Asif Ghafoor, a spokesman for Pakistan’s armed forces, referring to the Pakistani Air Force. “One Indian pilot arrested by troops on ground while two in the area.”
“One of the aircraft fell inside AJ&K while other fell inside IOK,” he said, using Pakistani acronyms for the Pakistani and Indian sides of Kashmir.
The Pakistan Army released a 46-second video in which a blindfolded man with blood on his face was seen saying: “I am IAF (Indian Air Force) Wing Commander Abhinandan. I am an IAF officer. My service number is 27989.”
India’s Ministry of External Affairs said it had lodged a protest with Pakistan over the “vulgar display” of the Indian Air Force pilot, and warned Islamabad against causing any harm to him.
“India also expects his immediate and safe return,” the ministry said in a statement.
Three Pakistani warplanes entered Indian airspace on Wednesday morning and dropped bombs, forcing the Indian Air Force to retaliate, Raveesh Kumar, spokesman for India’s Ministry of External Affairs, told reporters in New Delhi.
A day earlier, Indian warplanes bombed “the biggest training camp” of Jaish-e-Muhammad (JeM) inside Pakistani territory where, Indian authorities said, “a very large number of militants” were killed.
Pakistan-based JeM claimed credit for a suicide attack that killed 40 paramilitary police in Indian Kashmir on Feb. 14.
“Against this counter terrorism action [by Indian forces], Pakistan responded this morning by using its Air Force to target military installations on the Indian side,” Kumar said.
“In that aerial engagement, one Pakistan Air Force fighter aircraft was shot down by a MiG-21 Bison of the Indian Air Force. The Pakistani aircraft was seen by ground forces falling from the sky on the Pakistani side. In this engagement, we have unfortunately lost one MiG-21. The pilot is missing in action. Pakistan has claimed that he is in their custody,” he said.
Pakistan, however, said its jets were not targeting Indian military installations and the strikes were undertaken as an act of “self defense.”
“Today, Pakistan Air Force undertook strikes across [the] Line of Control from within Pakistani airspace. This was not a retaliation to continued Indian belligerence. Pakistan has therefore taken strikes at non-military targets, avoiding human loss and collateral damage,” Pakistan’s Foreign Office said in a statement.
“We have no intention of escalation, but are fully prepared to do so if forced into that paradigm,” it said.
An Indian Air Force Mi-17 chopper also crashed in the Budgam district of Indian-administered Kashmir, killing two pilots, four crew members and a civilian on the ground, V. K. Birdi, deputy inspector general of police, told BenarNews. However, Pakistan said it had “no engagement with that aircraft.”
Indian officials confirmed that a technical problem caused the crash.
‘We should sit down and talk’
Meanwhile, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan warned India against any “miscalculated aggression,” but reiterated his intention to engage in talks with New Delhi.
“All wars in world history have been miscalculated. Those who started the wars did not know where it will end. So, I want to ask India, with the weapons you and we have, can we afford a miscalculation?” he said in a televised address in Pakistan.
“If a war takes place, it will not be in my or [Indian Prime Minister] Narendra Modi’s control. If you want any kind of talks on terrorism, we are ready. Better sense must prevail. We should sit down and talk,” he added.
India and Pakistan have fought three full-blown wars – in 1965, 1971 and 1998. Two of them were over the ownership of Kashmir, which the two sides claim in its entirety. The region has grappled with a separatist insurgency that has claimed upward of 70,000 lives since the late 1980s.
Two suspected JeM militants were gunned down in Indian Kashmir’s Shopian district on Wednesday, police said, adding that the slain were local residents.
Sushma Swaraj, India’s external affairs minister, said Indian forces struck JeM’s terror training camp across the border because Pakistan had refused to act against militant groups operating on its soil.
“In the light of continuing refusal by Pakistan to acknowledge and act against terror groups based on its territory, and based on credible information that JeM is planning other attacks in various parts of India, the government of India decided to take pre-emptive action,” she said while addressing the 16th Foreign Ministers meeting of Russia-India-China (RIC) in Wuzhen, China.
India “does not wish to see a further escalation of the situation and will continue to act with responsibility and restraint,” she added.
Possibility of escalation
An escalation of tensions between India and Pakistan, with sporadic airstrikes and cease-fire violations along the border, is inevitable, analysts said. But they ruled out the possibility of a full-blown war between the two nuclear-armed nations.
“There is a high possibility of escalation on the ground and aerial strikes from both sides that might seem beyond control. But I don’t see the two nations going to all-out war,” Ajai Sahni, a New Delhi-based security expert, told BenarNews.
The aerial aggression by both sides was merely a “face-saving measure for domestic consumption,” he added.
Retired Brig. Anil Gupta, another defense analyst, agreed.
“War is not the answer. I keep saying India has a small window of punishment short of an all-out war. And India is using that opportunity already,” Gupta told BenarNews.
“In case Pakistan retaliates, striking civilian or military targets, it would mean aggression, and it should be prepared for the consequences,” he said.
Jaishree Balasubramanian in New Delhi and Mohammad Amin Pirzada in Srinagar, India contributed to this report.
Updated to correct the year of the third war between India and Pakistan. An earlier version also reported incorrectly that at least 46 troops were killed in the car-bombing.