How Close Are India and Pakistan to War?
India and Pakistan Shoot Down Each Other’s Fighter Jets
Tensions continue to escalate between nuclear-armed rivals India and Pakistan amid claims and counter claims of shooting down each other’s fighter planes.
Pakistan said it downed two Indian planes after they crossed over to its side of the Line of Control, the de-facto border in the disputed Kashmir region, following Pakistan’s airstrikes into an “open space” on the Indian side designed to send a message. Pakistan said it captured one Indian pilot.
“We planned it such that there would be no collateral damage, no casualties, but only to let India know that if you can come into our territory, we can also carry out strikes on your territory,” Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan said in an address to the nation Wednesday afternoon.
On 14 February, a militant from Indian-administered Kashmir killed 40 Indian Central Reserve Police Force members. The attack was claimed by the Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammed; however, Pakistan condemned the attack and denied responsibility.
Jaish-e-Mohammed (“The Army of Muhammad”) is a Pakistan-based Deobandi jihadist terrorist group active in Kashmir. The group’s main goal is to separate Kashmir from India and merge it into Pakistan. Since its inception in 2000, the terrorist organisation has carried out several attacks in the state of Jammu and Kashmir.
On 26 February 2019, when twelve Mirage 2000 jets of the Indian Air Force crossed the Line of Control in Kashmir, performing an airstrike inside Pakistan. India said the airstrike was in retaliation to the Pulwama attack, which took place two weeks prior to the strike.
According to India, the jets struck a Jaish-e-Mohammed-operated militant camp at Balakot killing a large number of militants—reported to be around 350—and returned back into Indian airspace unharmed without being engaged by Pakistani aircraft.
According to Pakistan, the aircraft violated their airspace near Muzaffarabad. Pakistan scrambled its jets in response, forcing the Indian jets to retreat to Indian airspace. In the process of returning to Indian airspace, the aircraft had to drop their payloads. Pakistan claimed that no casualties or damage had been inflicted.
Subsequent to the incident, Indian and Pakistani troops shelled each other across the Line of Control; Pakistan reported four civilians killed and eleven wounded by Indian shelling.
Long-Standing Tensions Over Kashmir
The airstrike was the first time since the war of 1971 that Indian Air Force aircraft crossed the Line of Control and the first time since both states have become nuclear powers.
Since the partition of British India in 1947 and creation of modern states of India and Pakistan, the two countries have been involved in a number of wars, and conflicts and military stand-offs.
The Kashmir issue has been the main cause of all major conflicts between the two countries with the exception of the Indo-Pakistani War of 1971 where conflict originated due to turmoil in erstwhile East Pakistan (now Bangladesh).
On February 27, Pakistan military officals announced that it had carried out airstrikes against multiple targets in Indian Administered Kashmir. Pakistan military spokesman claimed that the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) had hit six locations and their targets were supply depot of Indian Army. They claimed that two indian fighter jet MIG 21 shot down and 1 Indian pilot Mig Commander Abhinandan was arrested.
The Indian military has confirmed Pakistan’s airstrike. Indian military, however, claimed that Pakistan airforce only struck four locations and their target were Indian military installations. The areas identified by Indian military were Nadian, Laam Jhangar, Kerri in Rajouri District and Hamirpur area of Bhimber Galli in Poonch. According to the Indian military, three Pakistan Air Force jets had crossed the Line of Control (LoC) from Nowshera, Jammu and Kashmir. They left the area after Indian Air Force jets appeared on the scene.
Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan said that the airstrikes were only aimed to “send a message” and Pakistan’s plan was to cause “no casualties” on the Indian side. India rejected this account of the airstrikes. Imran Khan also appealed for negotiations to avoid war.
Indian MiG-21 Shot Down
After Pakistani military officals announced it had carried out airstrikes against multiple targets along Line of Control, ISPR reported that Pakistan Air Force shot down 2 Indian aircraft after they had intruded in Pakistan’s air space. ISPR claimed that one of the jets fell in Pakistan administered Kashmir while the other fell in Indian administered Kashmir. ISPR also claimed that it had captured two pilots although later was confirmed to be only one by Mr. Asif Gaffoor. The pilot, Abhinandan Varthaman, is a Wing Commander and a MiG-21 Bison pilot. The Indian Ministry of External Affairs has confirmed that an Indian pilot is missing in action after a MiG-21 Bison fighter plane was lost while engaging with Pakistani jets after they violated Indian airspace.
Did India Shoot Down a Pakistan Air Force Fighter Plane?
India said it shot down a Pakistani fighter plane, a claim denied by Islamabad, and New Delhi protested what it called Pakistan’s “unprovoked act of aggression” in targeting Indian military posts and violating its air space. India acknowledged it lost a plane and the Indian pilot was with Pakistan.
“Pakistan would be well advised to ensure that no harm comes to the Indian defense personnel in its custody. India also expects his immediate and safe return,” an Indian external affairs ministry statement read.
The Pakistani military’s media wing released pictures of the wreckage and a video of the pilot who described himself as Wing Commander Abhinandan. India called the release of the video, and some leaked videos on social media, a violation of the Geneva Convention outlining the international rules of warfare.
Growing Indo-Pakistan Tension
Tension in the region has been steadily growing since a suicide attack earlier this month in Pulwama, in Indian Kashmir, that killed more than 40 security personnel. India accused Pakistan of sheltering the militant group Jaish-e-Mohammad that claimed the attack and promised a “befitting response.”
Indian jets entered Pakistani airspace Tuesday, for the first time since 1971 when the two countries went to war, to destroy what they said were JeM’s training camps near Balakot in Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. Social media videos by locals from the area showed the strike hit a sparsely populated wooded area.
Prime Minister Khan had earlier warned that if India struck, Pakistan would be forced to respond. Analysts fear public pressure may force the two sides into a cycle of retaliation despite both claiming that they do not want the situation to escalate. The two sides have fought three full-scale wars along with a limited-scale conflict.
Khan offered India dialogue again Wednesday, promising to discuss all issues including terrorism.
“With the weapons (nuclear) that we own and you own, can we afford a miscalculation?” Khan said, addressing India, then adding, “If the situation escalates, it will be neither in my control nor Narendra Modi’s control,” he said, referring to India’s prime minister.
Earlier in the morning, Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj told her Chinese and Russian counterparts that the Indian action was conducted in the light of the “continuing refusal of Pakistan to acknowledge and act against terror groups on its territory” but that her country would act with “responsibility and restraint.”
The night before, the two sides exchanged heavy fire at several points in Kashmir. Gul Hasan, a teacher fleeing the shelling in Chakothi at the Line of Control on the Pakistani side, said he was forced to leave his home with his children in the middle of the night.
“People were running from Chakothi. We also ran on foot,” he said, saying most of the population in the area also fled.
The two countries have had thousands of incidents of cross-border firing in Kashmir in the last few years.
Pakistan closed its airspace to commercial traffic Wednesday, restoring it only partially by the evening. India shut down airports in the north of the country for several hours but later resumed operations.
China and US Call for Restraint
In light of Wednesday’s developments, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang reiterated calls for India and Pakistan to exercise restraint.
The U.S. has also expressed concern about the situation.
“The United States is deeply concerned about rising tensions between India and Pakistan and calls on both sides to take immediate steps to de-escalate the situation. The potential risks associated with further military action by either side are unacceptably high for both countries, their neighbors, and the international community,” a National Security Council official said.
A day earlier, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said he had talked to both the Indian and Pakistani foreign ministers to “encourage India and Pakistan to exercise restraint, and avoid escalation at any cost.”
Earlier this week, Federica Mogherini, the European Union’s high representative for foreign affairs and security policy, talked to Pakistan’s foreign minister, Shah Mahmood Qureshi, and “stressed the urgency to de-escalate the situation.”