INDIA and Pakistan said today (27) they had shot down each other’s warplanes, in an escalating confrontation that also saw Pakistan’s prime minister Imran Khan call for talks and adding, “better sense should prevail”.
Pakistan said it downed two Indian jets in its airspace and captured two pilots, while India confirmed the loss of one of its planes and said it had shot down a Pakistani fighter jet.
While both sides have sought to play down the threat of war, Khan said: “History tells us that wars are full of miscalculation. My question is that given the weapons we have can we afford miscalculation.
“We should sit down and talk,” Khan said during a brief televised broadcast to the nation.
His remarks were similar to that of the Pakistani military.
“We do not want escalation, we do not want to go towards war,” Major General Asif Ghafoor told a press conference.
One of the captured pilots was in custody and the other was in hospital, he said.
Pakistan also closed its airspace “until further notice”. At least six airports were shuttered in India, and a vast area north of New Delhi was closed to civilian flights.
A Pakistani military spokesman said that one of the downed Indian planes had fallen in Pakistani Kashmir, while the other came down on the Indian side of the heavily militarised de facto border dividing the region.
Ghafoor said the jets had been shot down after Pakistani planes earlier flew across the Line of Control, the de facto border in Kashmir, to the Indian side in a show of strength, hitting non-military targets including supply depots.
Afterwards, he said, the two Indian planes crossed the LoC into Pakistani airspace.
He denied initial reports that a Pakistan plane had been shot down, saying accounts an F-16 had been lost were incorrect as none were used in the action.
Later, Indian foreign ministry spokesman Raveesh Kumar said a Pakistan jet was hit as it took part in an operation “to target military installations on the Indian 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.”
At the Pakistani briefing, Ghafoor produced photographs of weapons and identity documents he said were carried by Indian pilots. The Pakistan government’s official Twitter account released a video of what it claimed was one of the Indian pilots who had been shot down.
The man, whose face is bloodied and blindfolded, gives his name and service number, before telling a man questioning him: “I’m sorry sir, that’s all I’m supposed to tell you.”
The incidents follow the February 14 suicide bombing in Indian Kashmir that killed 40 troops.
Pakistan has denied involvement in that attack.
New Delhi promised to act, and yesterday (26) its warplanes flew into Pakistani airspace and struck what it said was a camp of Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM), the militant group that claimed the Kashmir bombing.
It was India’s first air strike on Pakistani soil since the countries fought a war in 1971 – when neither had nuclear weapons.
Islamabad, while denying the Indian strike caused any major damage or casualties, quickly vowed to retaliate.
Earlier today, the Indian foreign minister sought to ease the situation by downplaying Tuesday’s strike, repeating Indian claims that it had been a pre-emptive attack on JeM as the group planned further assaults.
“India does not wish to see further escalation of this situation. India will continue to act with responsibility and restraint,” Sushma Swaraj said during talks in China with her counterparts from Beijing and Moscow.
The US, along with China and the European Union, have called for cooler heads to prevail.
“We encourage India and Pakistan to exercise restraint, and avoid escalation at any cost,” US secretary of state Mike Pompeo said after speaking to his counterparts from both countries.
China today again urged the two sides to “exercise restraint” and seek dialogue.