The conflict between India and Pakistan in Kashmir apparently escalated significantly overnight, as Pakistan claims it shot down two Indian warplanes, captured two pilots, and conducted six airstrikes against ground targets on the Indian side of the Line of Control (LOC). As with Tuesday’s Indian airstrikes on Pakistani territory, both sides dispute many of the details of these aerial engagements.
According to the Pakistani military, India provoked Wednesday’s battle by launching mortar rounds into Pakistani Kashmir, allegedly killing six civilians. Pakistan claims it shot down two of the Indian jets, one of which crashed in Pakistani territory, resulting in the capture of the two-man crew.
Pakistan then conducted a retaliatory strike in which its planes locked their targeting radars on six Indian ground targets to demonstrate their capabilities but then fired their ordnance into empty spaces to avoid causing any damage or casualties.
“This was not a retaliation in a true sense, but to tell Pakistan has the capability, we can do it, but we want to be responsible, we don’t want an escalation, we don’t want a war,” Pakistani spokesman Maj. Gen. Asif Ghafoor said at a press conference on Wednesday.
The Indians disputed Pakistan’s account, claiming its forces responded defensively to more than a dozen instances of heavy weapons fire from Pakistani forces into Indian territory that wounded five Indian soldiers.
“The Indian Army retaliated for effect and our focused fire resulted in severe destruction to five posts and number of casualties,” a military spokesman said.
India said its air force repelled a serious Pakistani effort to strike ground targets, losing only one plane in the conflict. Indian Foreign Ministry spokesman Raveesh Kumar said only one Indian pilot is “missing in action” and his government is attempting to determine if Pakistan has him.
“The Pakistan Air Force 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,” the Indian Foreign Ministry stated.
“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,” the statement added.
India also reported a military helicopter crash on its side of the Line of Control that killed at least four people, which could account for Pakistan’s tally of two Indian aircraft destroyed.
Pakistan, however, backed up its claims by displaying identity documents taken from two Indian prisoners and displaying video of a single injured, blindfolded prisoner reciting his name and service number.
Photos are circulating on social media showing Pakistani soldiers standing in the wreckage of Indian planes:
New photo circulating of Pakistani soldier posing on wreckage appears genuine as #IAF markings are clear and pitot tube (blue) and hatch/fairing position (red) confirm this is the starboard side nose section of a Mig-21Bis #IndiaPakistan pic.twitter.com/KoDhV86tr1
— Justin Bronk (@Justin_Br0nk) February 27, 2019
India shut down six airports near the conflict zone on Wednesday, including the main airport in Kashmir at Srinagar, while Pakistan shut down its airspace entirely and canceled all commercial flights.
Indian officials said evacuation plans are in place to move civilians away from the LOC if the conflict escalates, reporting “panic among the people.” Pakistan said it has already evacuated thousands of civilians from the border area, leaving behind only those civilians with ready access to concrete bunkers.
Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan gave a televised address on Wednesday, offering talks with India to de-escalate the situation.
“History tells us that wars are full of miscalculation. My question is that given the weapons we have, can we afford miscalculation?” Khan said, alluding to the nuclear arsenals both countries possess.
“If we let it happen, it will remain neither in my nor Narendra Modi’s control,” he warned, naming India’s prime minister.
“We should sit down and talk. I once again invite India to come to the negotiating table,” he said.
“India does not wish to see further escalation of this situation. India will continue to act with responsibility and restraint,” Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj said at a meeting with the foreign ministers of China and Russia.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi interrupted a scheduled speech to a youth festival on Wednesday to attend a security briefing. Modi halted his address, waved at the audience, and departed in haste after an aide handed him a report on the Kashmir situation.
Update, 9:35 Eastern: India expressed outrage over Pakistan’s treatment of the captured pilot, calling it a “vulgar display of injured personnel.” The Pakistani military released an updated statement that it has only one Indian pilot in custody. Indian and Pakistani forces reportedly exchanged heavy fire across the Kashmir LOC on Wednesday morning.