By Jon Dougherty
Anyone hoping that nuclear powers India and Pakistan would step back from the brink of all-out war following a tit-for-tat military exchange this month will be disappointed with news Wednesday morning that both countries have escalated tensions instead of pulling back.
A day after Indian fighters crossed into Pakistani territory to strike a training camp that reportedly was occupied by a militant group that carried out one of the deadliest attacks in the three-decade-old history of the Kashmiri insurgency, a pair of Indian fighters were shot down over Pakistani territory in what experts are calling the most serious escalation in tensions since the 1971 war, which resulted in the creation of the country of Bangladesh.
— Indian and Pakistani fighter jets engaged each other, resulting in the worst escalation since the war between the two in 1971.
— Pakistan said it engaged six targets across the de facto border between the nuclear-armed neighbors. Pakistan said its fighter planes shot down two Indian fighter aircraft that entered its airspace. Two Indian pilots were in its custody, one of them in hospital.
— India admitted to losing one MiG 21 fighter jet in the aerial engagement. India’s Kumar said the pilot of the plane is “missing in action,” and the government is ascertaining Pakistan’s claim of their custody. India said it shot down a Pakistani fighter jet today.
— Pakistan PM Imran Khan in his address to the nation sounded conciliatory, saying he was willing to investigate the Feb. 14 terror attack in Kashmir. He said a war won’t be in his or in Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s control and called for a dialogue between the two.
— China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi called for India and Pakistan to exercise restraint and offered to play a “constructive role,” while U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo urged the two nations to “avoid escalation at any cost.”
Reports noted that one Indian plane landed inside the portion of Kashmir controlled by Pakistan while the other crashed on the Indian side of the Line of Control, which is the border dividing the contested region, military spokesman Asif Ghafoor said.
Meanwhile, Pakistani government officials said one of the downed Indian pilots was injured and is receiving medical care while the other has been taken into custody.
“Both are under arrest and we are treating them with dignity,” Ghafoor said during a press conference in Islamabad.
Of course, India offered a contradictory version of events. New Dehli says it has lost one MiG 21 fighter jet, and that one of its pilots was missing in action. It also said it shot down one Pakistani plane, though Pakistani has said no such plane was in service:
India’s ANI news agency is reporting that a Pakistan F-16 which violated Indian air space was shot down three kilometers within Pakistan territory in Lam Valley. Ghafoor said Pakistan didn’t use F-16 planes in the operation.
Also Wednesday, Indian paramilitary forces clashed with Kashmir militants in India-controlled Kashmir, killing two. One analyst told Bloomberg that we are now in “unprecedented territory.” The news agency reported:
This is unprecedented territory – we haven’t had tit-for-tat air strikes between India and Pakistan since the 1971 war,” said Anit Mukherjee, a former Indian Army major and assistant professor at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore, by phone. “We don’t know what will come from this. But it seems like Pakistan has given a response. And there have been casualties — captures, deaths.”
China, an ally of Pakistan, has been urging both sides to back down, while the Trump administration, seen as closer to India, has called for restraint as well.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo pressed both sides to “exercise restraint, and avoid escalation at any cost.” He added that Pakistan’s priority was to avoid military action and take “meaningful action against terrorist groups operating on its soil.”
Diplomatically, Pakistan is seeking assistance from the United Nations to deescalate the situation. India, meanwhile, as reportedly reached out to the U.S., the UK, China, France, and Russia.
— Mansoor Ali Khan (@_Mansoor_Ali) February 27, 2019
— SAMAA TV (@SAMAATV) February 27, 2019
Fox News adds that Pakistan has shut down its airspace after capturing the Indian pilot:
A senior Indian police officer said earlier that an Indian Air Force plane crashed in the Indian-controlled sector of Kashmir. No information about injuries or deaths was immediately available.
Pakistan’s Civil Aviation Authority said later it closed its airspace to all commercial flights as tensions with India escalated.
Tensions have been simmering between the two nuclear-powers after India launched an airstrike Tuesday following a suicide bombing that killed more than 40 soldiers in India’s section of the disputed territory of Kashmir earlier this month.
Indian air force spokesman Anupam Banerjee in New Delhi told the Associated Press he had no information on Wednesday’s incident.
Tactically speaking, the Indian military outclasses and outmatched Pakistan, but the ‘great equalizer’ is that Islamabad possesses at least as many nuclear warheads — about 150 — as India. The fear is that an outright invasion by India were that to occur, would result in Islamabad resorting to nuclear weapons in order to blunt the assault.
- Follow Jon Dougherty on Twitter at @JonDougherty10
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