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Wed 27 Feb 2019 12:13 PM

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Pakistan downs Indian jets in worst escalation since 1971 war

Airports Authority of India has notified airlines that airports in the country's north have been shut down

Pakistan downs Indian jets in worst escalation since 1971 war
One aircraft fell inside Pakistan-controlled Kashmir, and the other crashed on India’s side of the Line of Control, said military spokesman Asif Ghafoor. An Indian pilot ejected over Pakistani territory and was arrested, he said.

Pakistani fighter jets have shot down two Indian aircraft in a significant escalation of tensions a day after India said its Air Force had bombed a terrorist training camp inside Pakistan. India has so far not issued a response.

One aircraft fell inside Pakistan-controlled Kashmir, and the other crashed on India’s side of the Line of Control, said military spokesman Asif Ghafoor. An Indian pilot ejected over Pakistani territory and was arrested, he said.

India’s ANI news agency is reporting that a Pakistan Air Force F-16 which violated Indian air space was shot down in Indian retaliatory fire three kilometres within Pakistan territory in Lam Valley.

"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."

"We have had this sort of thing happening on the ground for the last 20 years," Mukherjee added. "It’s basically a shifting of the conflict to the air."

India’s rupee reversed gains, while Pakistan’s benchmark stock index plunged as much as 3.8 percent in Karachi. Across the border, India’s S&P BSE Sensex dropped 0.2 percent in Mumbai after gaining as much as 1.1 percent earlier in the day.

Indian defence ministry spokesman Col. Aman Anand did not respond to calls or texts for comment and there has been no statement from Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government.

The Airports Authority of India has notified airlines that airports in the country’s north have been shut down, spokesman J.B. Singh said by phone.

Some flights in India and Pakistani airspace are returning to origin, while others appear to have sought alternate routing, according to Flightradar24.com.

Diplomatic outreach

Earlier today it appeared the bitter rivals were looking to lower the temperature with renewed diplomatic outreach.

Pakistan has sought help from the United Nations to de-escalate the situation, while India -- which is facing national elections in a few weeks -- reached out to countries including US, UK, China, France and Russia and urged the government in Islamabad to take action against terror groups based in the country.

The diplomatic back-and-forth came after India’s Air Force said its jets bombed targets inside Pakistan, which scrambled its own jets in response, for the first time in nearly 50 years. The target was a camp run by Jaish-e-Mohammed which claimed responsibility for the Feb. 14 suicide car bombing in Kashmir which killed 40 members of India’s security forces.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called the foreign ministers of both countries late on Tuesday. He stressed Washington’s "close security partnership" with New Delhi, while urging Pakistan to avoid any military response and take "meaningful action" against terrorist groups operating on its soil.

"They will not allow things to go out of control because both countries are facing tremendous pressure from global powers including China and the US," said Rashid Ahmed Khan, head of politics and international relations department at University of Central Punjab, Lahore said by phone. "There will be a controlled and managed escalation."

Kashmir Clashes

Meanwhile, security forces clashed with militants in Indian-administered Kashmir early Wednesday, killing two insurgents, according to a security spokesman.

Prior to Tuesday’s attack, which India said killed more than 300 people in a Jaish-e-Mohammed training camp inside Pakistan, New Delhi had detained more than 150 people mainly linked to a local separatist group and boosted its military presence in the region, according to news reports.

On Wednesday, Pakistan announced its Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi had sought out United Nations assistance to help de-escalate tensions with India. "India’s deliberate aggressive action is a sheer violation of U.N. Charter, international laws and intra-state norms. Pakistan reserves the right to respond in its defence. UNSC must immediate stop India from its aggressive actions," the letter said.

A meeting of the country’s top civilian and military leadership, including Prime Minister Imran Khan and Army Chief Qamar Javed Bajwa, is expected to be held today to discuss situation.

Tuesday’s strikes represent the worst escalation since 2001, when Pakistan and India moved ballistic missiles and troops to their border following an attack on parliament in New Delhi that was also blamed on Jaish-e-Mohammad. India and Pakistan have fought three major wars since partition and independence in 1947.

Both India and the US see Pakistan as providing safe haven for terrorist groups and point to the fact that the leadership of groups such as Jaish-e-Mohammed and Lashkar-e-Taiba, which carried out the Mumbai attacks in 2008, still live freely in Pakistan.