Pakistan says it has shot down two Indian air force planes in clashes over the line of control in the disputed region of Kashmir, and that two Indian pilots who came down in Pakistani territory have been captured.
Video of a blindfolded and bloodied man, who Pakistan claimed to be one of the arrested pilots, was shown at a news conference by Pakistan’s armed forces spokesman Maj General Asif Ghafoor.
India later said just one of its planes had been shot down, and that it had brought down a Pakistani jet during the same "aerial engagement".
The clashes represent a significant escalation since India said on Tuesday it had successfully bombed a major Pakistani militant training camp, in the first airstrikes across the de facto border in Kashmir since 1971. Reuters described it as the first time in history that two nuclear powers had exchanged airstrikes.
Live flight tracking data showed commercial jets turning back from the region as Pakistan’s civil aviation authority said it was closing its airspace to all flights. Indian police said the main airport in Kashmir, Srinagar, had also been closed and the Indian airline Vistara said that “due to airspace restrictions”, it was stopping flights to four northern Indian cities including Srinagar and as deep into India as Chandigarh.
In a statement on its foreign ministry website entitled “Pakistan strikes back”, Islamabad said it conducted its own airstrikes on Indian targets “across the line of control from within Pakistani airspace” on Wednesday morning.
The statement said the strikes hit “non-military targets, avoiding human loss and collateral damage”. It said the raid was intended as a show of force, “to demonstrate our right, will and capability for self defence”. Maj Gen Ghafoor later explained that the Pakistani jets had locked onto infrastructure targets but then aimed away into open terrain.
Ghafoor said India had responded to the strike by scrambling its own fighter jets, some of which crossed the line of control into Pakistan-administered Kashmir.
“PAF shot down two Indian aircrafts inside Pakistani airspace. One of the aircraft fell inside AJ&K (Pakistan-administered Kashmir) while other fell inside IOK (Indian-administered Kashmir),” he said.
Indian officials said earlier that in a separate incident, one of its aircraft crashed in Indian-administered Kashmir and that both pilots and a civilian were killed. This craft was initially described by officials to be a plane, but images of the wreckage later showed what appeared to be the tail number of an Mi17 military helicopter.
Tensions had been rising even before the Indian government said it had “completely destroyed” a major base of Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM), the militant group which claimed the deadly 14 February car bomb attack on Indian soldiers in Pulwama, Kashmir. Pakistan said Tuesday morning’s bombing raid had caused no damage or loss of life, but vowed to respond in due course nonetheless.
Meanwhile on Wednesday morning the Pakistani police claimed Indian shelling across the treaty-agreed line of control in Kashmir had killed at least six civilians on the Pakistan side.
Indian and Pakistani forces regularly exchange fire across the border region, but observers say fighting has been particularly fierce since news broke of India’s air sortie on Tuesday.
Residents on both sides of the de-factor frontier, said there were exchanges of fire between the two sides through the night.
In Pakistan’s part of Kashmir, hundreds of villagers have fled border towns. And the situation was no different in villages along the line of control in Indian-controlled Kashmir, where residents were moving to safer places following the intense exchange of fire.
In Delhi, Indian officials said at least five of their soldiers were wounded in firing by Pakistani troops along the volatile frontier.
Lieutenant Colonel Devender Anand, an Indian army spokesman, said Pakistani soldiers targeted dozens of Indian military positions across the Line of Control throughout the night.
An Indian military statement said that “out of anger and frustration”, Pakistan “initiated unprovoked ceasefire violation”. The statement said Indian troops “retaliated for effect” and claimed to have destroyed five Pakistani posts.
It accused Pakistani soldiers of firing mortars and missiles “from civilian houses, using villagers as human shields”.
Since the 14 February bombing, which killed 40 Indian paramilitary officers and which the Indian government blamed on Pakistan, the international community has urged both sides to exercise restraint and avoid further military escalation.
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