India, Pakistan trade war

Archenemies down each other's jets as conflict in Kashmir further heats up

Indian activists shout patriotic slogans and celebrate the Indian Air Force's air strike across the Line of Control in Kashmir.

India and Pakistan emerged at the bring of a full-fledged war as last Wednesday they both claimed they shot down each other's fighter jets, a day after Indian warplanes struck inside Pakistan territory for the first time since 1971 war, news wires reported. Both countries have ordered air strikes over the last two days, the first time in history, prompting world powers to urge restraint.

Tension between the two countries has escalated since a suicide car bombing by Pakistan-based militants in Indian-controlled Kashmir killed at least 40 Indian paramilitary police on 14 February, but the risk of a wider conflict rose dramatically last Tuesday when India launched an air strike on what it said was a militant training base. The attack targeted the Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM), the group that claimed the suicide attack. India said a large number of JeM fighters had been killed, but Pakistani officials said the strike was a failure and inflicted no casualties.

In attempt to calm town the situation, Pakistani PM Imran Khan called for talks with India and hoped “better sense” would prevail so that both sides could de-escalate. “History tells us that wars are full of miscalculation. My question is that, given the weapons we have, can we afford miscalculation. “We should sit down and talk,” Khan said during a televised broadcast to the nation.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo spoke separately with the foreign ministers of both countries, urging them to avoid “further military activity”. “I expressed to both ministers that we encourage India and Pakistan to exercise restraint, and avoid escalation at any cost,” Pompeo said in a statement. Both China and the European Union have also called for restraint.

Pakistan and India have fought three wars since independence from British colonial rule in 1947, two of them over the disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir. The countries were on the brink of a fourth in 2002 after a Pakistani militant attack on India's parliament. The latest escalation marks a sudden turnaround in relations as in November, Pakistan's Khan spoke of “mending ties” with India.

Many of the facts in the latest series of hits are unclear and disputed by the two sides. According to a spokesman for the Pakistan armed forces, two Indian jets had been shot down after they entered Pakistani airspace while responding to a Pakistani aerial mission on targets in Indian-controlled Kashmir. One of the jets crashed on the Indian-controlled side of the de facto border in Kashmir, and the other on the Pakistani side and two Indian pilots had been captured, he said. Pakistan claims that the Pakistani aircraft had carried out the strikes in response to India's air strike the day before but had taken deliberate action to ensure no casualties were caused.

A spokesman for India's foreign ministry, gave a different account, telling a news briefing that the Pakistan air strikes on military targets had been “foiled”. India shot down one Pakistani plane that landed in Pakistani territory, and that it had lost one of its own planes, not two, with the pilot “missing in action”. “Pakistan has claimed that he is in their custody. We are ascertaining the facts,” he pointed out. Pakistan denies it lost a plane in the encounter.

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