The U.S. is reportedly trying to verify New Delhi’s claim that Pakistan used American-made F-16 jets to shoot down an Indian warplane over the disputed Kashmir region last week, potentially marking a violation of United States military sales restrictions, the U.S. embassy in Islamabad revealed on Sunday.
Without specifying which plane it used last Wednesday, Islamabad denied using the American-built aircraft to shoot down the Indian warplane over the Muslim-majority Himalayan region of Kashmir where Pakistan, its ally China, and their rival India all have competing territorial claims.
On Sunday, the U.S. embassy in Islamabad told Reuters that the Trump administration is investigating reports that Pakistan used F-16 warplanes to shoot down the Indian pilot on February 27, which is a potential violation of America’s military sale agreements that restrict how Pakistan can use the aircraft.
“We are aware of these reports and are seeking more information,” an embassy spokesperson declared. “We take all allegations of misuse of defense articles very seriously.“
Reuters acknowledged that it remains unclear what exactly the restrictions are under the so-called “end-user agreements.”
“The U.S. government does not comment on or confirm pending investigations of this nature,” the American embassy told the news outlet.
Although China is the top supplier of military hardware to Pakistan, the United States also sells equipment to the Pakistani armed forces. Pakistan is the world’s top exporter of weapons from China, Islamabad’s all-weather military and financial ally. Nevertheless, India maintains that Pakistan used the U.S.-made F-16s to take down the Indian warplane last week, an accusation denied by Islamabad.
On Thursday, Indian officials displayed to reporters parts of what they called an air-to-air missile that can only be fired from F-16 jets, alleging they were used to bomb its side of the disputed Kashmir border on Wednesday.
A Pakistan military spokesman told reporters on Wednesday that Pakistani jets locked on to Indian targets to demonstrate Pakistan’s capacity to strike back at India, but then chose to fire at an empty field where there would be no casualties.
Nuclear-armed neighbors and regional rivals Pakistan and India both carried out airstrike bombing operations in Kashmir last week, marking an escalation of tensions in the disputed region not seen in decades but that appeared to be easing in recent days with Islamabad’s return of a captured Indian pilot.
In what Pakistani officials described as retaliation to an airstrike operation by India triggered by an allegedly Pakistan-linked terrorist attack that killed more than 40 Indian security officers on Valentine’s Day, Islamabad shot down a warplane and detained the pilot on Wednesday, prompting fears of all-out conflict between the two nuclear powers.
Pakistan argued that its air operation came in response to Indian jets violating its airspace and sovereignty a day earlier, last Tuesday, by reportedly bombing a forest in Islamabad-administered Kashmir.
India claimed it targeted a Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) training camp after the terrorist group claimed responsibility for the February 14 suicide bombing that left more than 40 security forces dead in New Delhi-administered Kashmir.
On Wednesday, Asad Khan, Pakistan’s ambassador to the United States, denied that JEM or any organized terrorist group operates on Pakistani soil with Islamabad’s blessing, contradicting assertions by Washington, Kabul, and New Delhi that the South Asian country harbors jihadis.
The Trump administration has suspended hundreds of millions in security assistance to Pakistan for Islamabad’s ongoing reluctance to take decisive action against terrorists, an accusation that Amb. Khan denied.
While backing Islamabad’s position, China largely stays in the shadows of the territorial claims between India and Pakistan concerning Kashmir. China has urged restraint by India and Pakistan in response to the latest escalation of tensions.
The U.S. government has noted that China exploits the animosity between India and Pakistan regarding Kashmir to contain New Delhi.
Although both countries claim ownership of Kashmir in its entirety, a border known as the Line of Control (LOC) separates the Pakistan-administered territory in the region from the Indian-controlled lands. Pakistan has ceded control of some of its Kashmir areas to its ally China, while India disputes Beijing’s claims to territory on its side of the LOC.
Kashmir borders Pakistan, China, and India.
Despite a 2003 ceasefire between India and Pakistan, the two sides have increasingly exchanged fire along the LOC in recent years. However, Pakistan’s return of the Indian pilot on Friday appears to have alleviated at least some of the tension in the region.
“By and large the LoC was calm last night but you never know when it will become active again,” Chaudhry Tariq Farooq, a minister in Pakistani Kashmir, told Reuters on Sunday.
An excess of 500 casualties in the Indian-administered territory alone made 2018 the bloodiest year in Kashmir in almost a decade, Al Jazeera found.
In the past two weeks, deadly battles between troops and militants along the LOC have left 25 dead, according to Reuters.
While India accuses Pakistan of backing Islamic terrorists in Kashmir, Islamabad blames New Delhi of violently oppressing pro-Pakistan separatists who are fighting for independence or in favor of a merger with Pakistan.