Pakistan has conducted airstrikes over the ceasefire line in disputed Kashmir and claims to have shot down two Indian jets that responded by entering Pakistani airspace, capturing one of the pilots.
The incursions, a day after India flew sorties into Pakistan for the first time in nearly 50 years, are the latest escalations in the most serious military crisis in south Asia since the nuclear-armed neighbours fought a brief war in the Himalayas in 1999.
The Indian news agency ANI reported on Wednesday, quoting an anonymous official, that a Pakistani jet may also have been shot down in Indian airspace. Islamabad said in a statement on Wednesday morning that it had struck a “non-military target” across the ceasefire line in Kashmir without entering Indian airspace to demonstrate its “right, will and capability for self defence”. “We have no intention of escalation, but are fully prepared to do so if forced into that paradigm,” the Pakistan armed forces said in a statement.
A senior Indian official said the Pakistani jets were likely to have struck two evacuated villages, Nadianlam and Jhangar, in the border district of Rajouri shortly after 10.30am. “The Indian air force responded strongly and they were pushed back,” the official said.
An Indian fighter jet crashed about 150km away in Budgam district on Wednesday morning, killing at least one person aboard, but it unclear if the incident was linked.
Pakistan's armed forces spokesman, Major-General Asif Ghafoor, claimed that in response to the strikes, Indian jets crossed the ceasefire line. Two were shot down, he said. "One of the aircraft fell inside AJ&K [Pakistan-controlled Kashmir] while other fell inside IOK [Indian-controlled Kashmir]. One Indian pilot arrested by troops on ground while two in the area," he said on Twitter.
India has been on high alert since Tuesday’s strikes, an operation Islamabad promised to repay with its own “surprise” attack. Fighter jets patrolled the skies above Srinagar, the capital of disputed Kashmir, throughout Tuesday night as India and
Pakistan traded mortar fire a few hundred miles away at the ceasefire border. The US secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, issued a statement largely supportive of India, characterising its incursion five miles into neighbouring territory a “counter terrorism action” and calling on
Pakistan to take “meaningful action against terrorist groups operating on its soil”. There are still significant questions over what, if anything, was struck by India’s fighter jets in the early hours of Tuesday morning. Both countries agree that Indian jets made it to within at least a few miles of Balakot, a small city about five miles inside Pakistani territory. But accounts diverge from there. India claims it hit a militant training camp and killed “a very large number” of fighters from the Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) group, which took responsibility for a February 14th suicide bombing in Indian-controlled Kashmir that killed 40 paramilitaries.
Pakistan says the Indian fighters were confronted before they could reach Balakot and dropped four to five bombs in an open field as they fled back across the border. Both countries have mounted media blitzes to push their particular narrative but left room to de-escalate the conflict.
“Wait and get ready”
On Wednesday morning, India’s external affairs minister, Sushma Swaraj, emphasised that Pakistan’s military was not the target of the sorties. “No military installations were targeted,” Swaraj said. “The limited objective of the pre-emptive strike was to act decisively against the terrorist infrastructure of the JeM in order to pre-empt another terrorist attack in India.” She added: “India does not wish see further escalation of the situation and India will continued to act with responsibility and restraint.”
Pakistan is holding a joint session of parliament on Wednesday afternoon followed by a meeting of the National Command Authority, whose responsibilities include overseeing the country’s nuclear arsenal. “It is your turn now to wait and get ready for our surprise,” Ghafoor said on Tuesday night.
Both armies accused the other of shelling villages and opposition army posts across the line of control that separates Indian and Pakistani controlled Kashmir. A Pakistani police official told the Associated Press that six people were killed by Indian mortar attacks. Indian security officials did not report any casualties but said villages were hit including Kamalkote and Kalgo, both near the heavily guarded military border.
Two militants allegedly belonging to JeM were shot dead in Indian-controlled Kashmir Shopain district on Wednesday morning, in the fourth counter-insurgency operation since a car laden with explosives was detonated by an Indian paramilitary convoy, sparking the latest round of tensions between the nuclear-armed neighbours. Markets and shops across Kashmir were shut on Wednesday in protest at the arrests of hundreds of separatist activists and leaders in the days before Tuesday’s military operations. – Guardian