Pakistan says it downed 2 Indian warplanes, captured pilots

Pakistan’s air force shot down two Indian warplanes after they crossed the boundary between the two nuclear-armed rivals in the disputed territory of Kashmir on Wednesday and captured two Indian pilots, one of whom was injured, a military spokesperson said.

The dramatic escalation came hours after Pakistan said mortar shells fired by Indian troops from across the frontier dividing the two sectors of Kashmir killed six civilians and wounded several others.

Pakistan’s army spokesperson Maj. Gen. Asif Ghafoor said Pakistani troops on the ground captured the pilots. One of the downed planes crashed in Pakistan’s part of Kashmir while the other went down in Indian-controlled section of the Himalayan region, he said.

The injured pilot was being treated at a military hospital, Ghafoor told a news conference in the garrison town of Rawalpindi. He did not elaborate beyond saying the pilots were being “treated well” and made no mention of them being returned to India.

Ghafoor struck a conciliatory tone. “We have no intention of escalation, but are fully prepared to do so if forced into that paradigm,” he added.

India later said it lost a combat jet and the pilot was missing while it foiled an attack by Pakistan military planes over the disputed region of Kashmir.

An Indian Foreign Ministry spokesman said Indian planes engaged with the Pakistan aircraft and brought one of them down.

“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,” Raveesh Kumar told reporters.

Pakistan has not said anything about losing any of its planes, while Prime Minister Imran Khan called for talks with India and hoped “better sense” would prevail to de-escalate the dispute with its nuclear-armed neighbour.

“History tells us that wars are full of miscalculation. My question is that given the weapons we have can we afford miscalculation,” Khan said during a brief televised broadcast to the nation. “We should sit down and talk.”

Airspace closed, bodies recovered from crashed helicopter

Pakistan’s Civil Aviation Authority said it shut Pakistani airspace to all commercial flights on Wednesday, without elaborating or indicating when the flights might resume. It was not clear if the shutdown applied to commercial overflights.

Indian news reports said airports in the Indian portion of Kashmir closed for civilian traffic shortly after the air force jet crashed. The Press Trust of India news agency said these airports were located at Srinagar, Jammu and Leh.

Indian administrator Baseer Khan confirmed that the airport in Srinagar, the main city in Indian-controlled Kashmir, was closed and said it was a “temporary and precautionary measure.” Press Trust of India said two airports in northern Punjab state, which borders Pakistan, were also closed.

Indian police also said officials recovered six bodies from the wreckage of an Indian Air Force helicopter that crashed in Indian-controlled sector of Kashmir.

Senior police officer Munir Ahmed Khan said the chopper crashed close to an airport on Wednesday in Budgam area, in the outskirts of the region’s main city of Srinagar. The Srinagar airport is also an air force station.

Police said they were still going through the wreckage and did not immediately identify the victims. Local residents earlier said they saw three bodies at the site.

Eyewitnesses said soldiers fired warning shots in air to keep residents away from the crash site.

Meanwhile, as the tensions and confrontation escalated between India and Pakistan, authorities asked workers to paint rooftops of hospitals and clinics in red and white with a medical emblem of a cross in Srinagar city.

Meanwhile, the foreign ministry in Islamabad said the country’s air force was carrying out airstrikes Wednesday from within Pakistani airspace across the disputed Kashmir boundary but that this was not in “retaliation to continued Indian belligerence.”

Ghafoor, the Pakistani military spokesperson, said the strikes were aimed at “avoiding human loss and collateral damage.”

According to local Pakistani police official Mohammad Altaf, the six fatalities in the Indian shelling earlier on Wednesday included children. The shells hit the village of Kotli in Pakistan’s section of Kashmir.

India’s Border Security Force (BSF) soldiers patrol along the fenced border with Pakistan in Ranbir Singh Pura sector near Jammu on Tuesday. Tensions are mounting between the two countries. (Mukesh Gupta/Reuters)

Kashmir is split between Pakistan and India and claimed by both in its entirety. Though Pakistani and Indian troops in Kashmir often trade fire, the latest casualties came a day after tensions escalated sharply following a pre-dawn airstrike and incursion by India that New Delhi said targeted a terrorist training camp in northwestern Pakistan. 

The latest wave of tensions between Pakistan and India first erupted after Jaish-e-Mohammad claimed responsibility for the Feb. 14 suicide bombing of a convoy of India’s paramilitary forces in the Indian portion of Kashmir that killed 40 Indian troops.

Pakistan has said it was not involved in the attack and was ready to help New Delhi in the investigations.