Pakistan says it has IAF pilot in custody after India foils PAF bid to target military installations; New Delhi demands 'safe return'

A day after India said it bombed Jaish-e-Mohammed's biggest training camp in Pakistan, the tensions between the two countries further escalated on Wednesday after Islamabad launched retaliatory strikes and claimed it had one Indian Armed Forces (IAF) pilot in its custody.

FP Staff February 27, 2019 21:13:14 IST
Pakistan says it has IAF pilot in custody after India foils PAF bid to target military installations; New Delhi demands 'safe return'
  • Tensions between the India and Pakistan escalated after Islamabad launched retaliatory strikes and claimed it had one IAF pilot in its custody

  • India's MEA summoned the acting high commissioner of Pakistan to lodge a strong protest against the 'unprovoked act of aggression' by Pakistan

  • Wednesday's developments came a day after India said it bombed Jaish-e-Mohammed's biggest training camp in Pakistan

A day after India said it bombed Jaish-e-Mohammed's (JeM) biggest training camp in Pakistan, the tension between the two countries further escalated on Wednesday after Islamabad launched retaliatory strikes and captured one Indian Air Force (IAF) pilot.

The developments followed night-long heavy firing and shelling on forward and civilian areas from across the Line of Control (LoC) in Jammu and Kashmir's Rajouri and Poonch. All residents of the border areas had been told to remain inside their homes and not venture outside.

Early on Wednesday, Islamabad claimed that it had bombed the Indian territory across the border areas. Pakistan military spokesperson Major General Asif Ghafoor said that when IAF crossed the LoC in response, they hit back at India by bringing down two Indian military aircraft, one of which crashed in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir while the other fell in Jammu and Kashmir.

Ghafoor then claimed that two IAF pilots were captured. One pilot is injured and has been shifted to a hospital, while another one is unhurt, he added, showing documents of the arrested pilots but identifying only one.

"This was an act of self-defence and the inbuilt message was that Pakistan did not want to hurt any civilian. The target for the attack was crucial. We wanted to prove that we have the capability of defending ourselves," he said in a televised address. Later in the day, Ghafoor said on Twitter "only one pilot under Pakistan Army’s custody".

Pakistan says it has IAF pilot in custody after India foils PAF bid to target military installations New Delhi demands safe return

File image of Raveesh Kumar. Image courtesy: Facebook/@MEAIndia

India said that during the Wednesday operation, a MiG 21 Bison was lost and an IAF pilot was missing. In a terse press statement, Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson Raveesh Kumar, accompanied by Air Vice Marshal RGK Kapoor, said that details were being ascertained about Pakistan's claim of having captured one Indian pilot.

"Pakistan has responded this morning by using its air force to target military installations on the Indian side. Due to our high state of readiness and alertness, Pakistan's attempts were foiled successfully," Kumar said.

He said the Pakistan Air Force activity was detected and the Indian Air Force responded instantly.

"In that aerial engagement, one Pakistan Air Force fighter aircraft was shot down by a MiG 21 Bison of the Indian Air Force. The Pakistani aircraft was seen by ground forces falling from the sky on the Pakistan 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. We are ascertaining the facts," he said.

As tensions grew, the entire airspace north of New Delhi was briefly "vacated". Nine airports in Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh and Punjab were closed for civilian traffic for some part of the morning but opened later in the day.

Jammu and Kashmir was the centre of much of the action on a day of escalating tensions between the two neighbours. In an unrelated incident, an IAF helicopter crashed in Budgam in Kashmir, killing at least six IAF officers and one civilian. The civilian was identified as Kifayat Hussain Ganaie, a local resident.

In Islamabad, the Pakistan Army released a 46-second video showing a blindfolded man claiming he is IAF's Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman. "I am an IAF officer. My service No is 27981," the man was seen as saying in the video. A video later also did rounds showing the same man drinking tea and again asserting that he was the IAF pilot.

In a live television broadcast, Pakistani prime minister Imran Khan also reiterated the military's claim that two Indian MiGs were shot down, as he offered to defuse tensions and resolve the issue between the neighbouring countries through talks.

Imran said the Pakistani incursion into the Indian air space was "only intended to convey that if you can come into our country, we can do the same".

Two Indian MiGs were shot down in the ensuing action, Imran said, one day after Indian government sources told PTI that up to 350 JeM terrorists were killed in Tuesday's attack.

"I ask India: with the weapons you have and the weapons we have, can we really afford a miscalculation? If this (situation) escalates, it will no longer be in my control or in (Prime Minister) Narendra Modi's," Imran said.

Clamour grows to bring back missing pilot

Top security and intelligence officials on Wednesday huddled into a meet at the Prime Minister's Office in the wake of Pakistan Air Force jets violating the Indian airspace. National Security Advisor Ajit Doval, senior officials of the Indian Navy, Indian Army and the Indian Air Force and other security officials held a meeting to discuss the security situation.

While the Indian government and the defence establishment took stock of the situation building up since the 14 February attack on a CRPF convoy in Pulwama in Jammu and Kashmir, in which 40 soldiers were killed, attention swivelled on the missing IAF pilot in enemy territory, who was neither named nor was his designation disclosed by the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) during the press briefing.

The demand to bring back the missing pilot grew on social media. #Abhinandan, #SayNoToWar, and #BringBackAbhinandan were among the top three trends in India on Twitter.

National Conference leader Omar Abdullah said, "Pakistan, please treat him as you would have us treat one of your men in uniform should he be unfortunate enough to be captured on this side of the border."

Samajwadi Party leader Akhilesh Yadav, and AIMIM president Asaduddin Owaisi, too, expressed their concerns for the Indian pilot who was "missing in action".

Opposition condemns Pakistan's 'misadventures'

A total of 21 political parties of the Opposition held a meeting at the Parliament building, Congress president Rahul Gandhi addressed the media, reading out the joint statement signed by the parties.

"The leaders expressed concerned. Post the MEA statement, the leaders condemned the Pakistani misadventures and expressed deep concern for the safety of our missing pilot. The leaders urged the government to take the nation into confidence on all measures to protect India's sovereignty, unity and integrity," he said.

In the joint statement, the parties also expressed "deep anguish over the blatant politicisation of the sacrifices made by our armed forces by leaders of the ruling party" following the Pulwama attack.

"National security must transcend narrow political considerations. The leaders observed that the prime minister has, regrettably, not convened an all-party meeting as per the established practice in our democracy," the parties said.

India issues demarche on Pakistan's 'act of aggression'

In a press statement on Wednesday evening, the MEA said that it had summoned the acting high commissioner of Pakistan on Wednesday afternoon to lodge a strong protest against the "unprovoked act of aggression by Pakistan against India, including violation of the Indian air space by Pakistan Air Force and targeting of Indian military posts".

"It was clearly conveyed that India reserves the right to take firm and decisive action to protect its national security, sovereignty and territorial integrity against any act of aggression or cross-border terrorism," the MEA said.

The ministry said that India "strongly objected to Pakistan’s vulgar display of injured personnel of the Indian Air Force in violation of all norms of International Humanitarian Law and the Geneva Convention".

"It was made clear that Pakistan would be well advised to ensure that no harm comes to the Indian defence personnel in its custody. India also expects his immediate and safe return," it said.

The MEA added that it expressed regret at Pakistan's "continuing denial" of the presence of terrorist infrastructure in its territories and handed over a dossier to the Pakistani side with details of JeM complicity in Pulwama terror attack and the presence of JeM leadership in Pakistan.

"It was conveyed that India expects Pakistan to take immediate and verifiable action against terrorism emanating from territories under its control," it said.

UK, Russia call for restraint

The UK, Russia, Nepal and Sri Lanka were among the countries which expressed concern over rising tensions on Wednesday. "The UK is deeply concerned about rising tensions between India and Pakistan and urgently calls for restraint on both sides to avoid further escalation. We're in regular contact with both countries, urging dialogue and diplomatic solutions to ensure regional stability," said British prime minister Theresa May.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Russia said in a statement, "We call on both sides to show restraint and step up efforts to resolve existing problems by political and diplomatic means....We are ready to further assist in strengthening the counter-terrorism potential of New Delhi and Islamabad."

Meanwhile, Turkey "categorically" announced to stand by Pakistan and its people in the "face of Indian aggression", Karachi-based newspaper Dawn reported. Turkish foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu reportedly shared the sentiments in a telephonic conversation with his Pakistani counterpart Shah Mahmood Qureshi.

The report quoted Cavusoglu as saying that "Turkey would also oppose" the External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj's invitation to the upcoming Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) meeting in Abu Dhabi. Pakistan had earlier expressed concerns over Swaraj attending the meeting with the UAE.

Meanwhile, Nepal underlined the importance of peace and stability in South Asia and called on both India and Pakistan not to engage in actions that would threaten security in the region.

“As the current Chair of the SAARC (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation), Nepal, while underlining the importance of peace and stability in South Asia, calls on both sides to exercise utmost restraint and not engage in actions that would threaten peace and security in the region," Nepal's foreign ministry said.

Sri Lanka requested India and Pakistan to act in a manner that ensures the security, peace and stability of the entire region, it said.

"Sri Lanka strongly supports peace and stability in the South Asia region and all endeavours towards the diffusion of tensions including the resolution of bilateral problems through dialogue and building confidence," a statement by the Sri Lankan foreign ministry said.

With inputs from agencies

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