Pakistan fires on Indian helicopters

TENSION BETWEEN India and Pakistan threatened to boil over yesterday after Indian helicopters were fired upon by a Pakistani surface-to-air missile battery, apparently in retaliation for the shooting down on Tuesday of one of its naval surveillance planes with the loss of 16 servicemen.

India said that three of its helicopters, which were 15 miles inside its own territory, were forced to take emergency evasive action. They had been travelling to view the wreckage of the Pakistani aircraft.

Pakistan admitted firing a missile, but said it had been in response to an attempted intrusion by two Indian jets flanked by helicopters, which had fled the scene immediately. The latest incident demonstrated that the international appeals for calm appear to have fallen on deaf ears.

The United States had earlier pleaded for both countries to adopt maximum restraint and hinted it might send an envoy to both capitals to reduce tension. Both countries mounted a propaganda offensive yesterday, producing video footage and wreckage from the French-built Dassault Atlantique plane. Wreckage was recovered from each side of the border dividing Pakistani Sindh and Indian Gujarat. Delhi maintained that the site of the debris proved conclusively the aircraft had invaded India airspace on a "spying mission".

But Islamabad said the discovery of parts on the marshy land in Pakistani territory clearly showed India had crossed the border to fire on an unarmed plane on a routine training mission.

The incident raised temperatures, which had barely cooled since 10 weeks of fighting in Indian-run Kashmir was ended last month. Pakistan ordered the withdrawal of Islamic militants only after intense diplomatic pressure from the international community.

India's cabinet committee on security, headed by the Prime Minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, met yesterday for 45 minutes to discuss the incident. Defence staff showed the committee members wreckage of the Pakistani aircraft retrieved on Indian soil. Group Captain D N Ganesh told the cabinet committee that the wreckage was spread over a wide area and that the stricken plane had overflown the weaving border twice as it fell and broke up, explaining why some bits ended in Pakistan.

Pakistan's Navy in Karachi, which maintained the flight was over home territory when attacked, said Indian helicopters had stolen across the border to retrieve some of the debris. "It took about two or three hours before we found the wreckage," said a Pakistan Navy spokesman. "So there is a chance that they might have taken some to their side."

The US called for both sides to use "restraint and dialogue" to resolve their differences. The Pentagon said that an envoy might be sent to heal the rift. The spokesman Kenneth Bacon said: "We have in the past sent emissaries to both [countries]. If we believe it will be useful, we will do so again."

After the latest incident last night, the dispatch of an envoy seems even more likely. Pakistan's senior military spokesman, Brigadier Rashid Qureshi, speaking at Badin, Sindh, near the Atlantique's crash site, was unrepentant. "Two Indian jet fighters tried to enter this area but were forced to run after we fired at them."

Leading article, Review, page 3

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Clinical Lead / RGN

£40000 - £42000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: IT Sales Consultant

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT support company has a n...

Recruitment Genius: Works Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A works engineer is required in a progressive ...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Hire Manager - Tool Hire

£21000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our client is seeking someone w...

Day In a Page

Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

Why are we addicted to theme parks?

Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

Iran is opening up again to tourists

After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
10 best PS4 games

10 best PS4 games

Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent