Pakistan says it has shot down two Indian warplanes over Kashmir and captured a pilot in a major escalation of the conflict in the disputed territory.
An army spokesman said the country’s air force shot down the jets after they crossed the boundary between the two nuclear rivals in the region.
Major General Asif Ghafoor said one plane went down in Indian-controlled Kashmir and another crashed on its own territory where troops on the ground detained a pilot.
Earlier, he had said two pilots had been captured, one of whom was injured and had been taken to a military hospital.
Sky’s India reporter Neville Lazarus said Pakistan’s information ministry published then later deleted images of an Indian pilot – blindfolded and his face bloodied.
Maj Gen Ghafoor later tweeted a photograph of the captured pilot with a drink in his hand and wrote “there is only one pilot under Pakistan’s Army’s custody” and he “is being treated as per norms of military ethics”.
India confirmed the loss of a fighter jet and pilot in its response to the Pakistani offensive.
Raveesh Kumar, a spokesman for India’s ministry of external affairs, said an air force Mig-21 Bison was “lost” in engagement with a Pakistani aircraft over an area of Indian-controlled Kashmir and that its pilot was “missing in action”.
He also told a news conference that Indian forces had shot down a Pakistani aircraft, and gave no further details.
Senior Indian police officer Munir Ahmed Khan said an Indian air force plane crashed in Budgam, a district in the Kashmiri state of Jammu and Kashmir in India.
Witnesses said soldiers fired in the air to keep residents away from the crash site.
The escalation comes a day after Pakistan threatened India with retaliation after its rival launched an airstrike on a suspected extremist training camp in the Pakistan-controlled part of Kashmir.
India said the early morning strike “eliminated” a large number of militants and no civilians were hurt.
Maj Gen Ghafoor warned Delhi in a news conference on Tuesday: “It is your turn now to wait and get ready for our surprise.”
India said its strike inside Pakistan was to prevent the Jaish-e-Mohammad group from launching another attack on Indian territory.
The Pakistan-based militant group claimed it had carried out a suicide bombing on a convoy of paramilitary forces in Indian-controlled Kashmir on 14 February, killing 41 troops.
India has accused Pakistan of allowing the militant group to operate on its territory – which Islamabad denies.
“This was not a retaliation in true sense, but to tell Pakistan has capability, we can do it, but we want to be responsible, we don’t want an escalation, we don’t want a war,” Maj Gen Ghafoor said of the latest strikes during a news conference on Wednesday.
In a separate statement, Pakistan’s foreign ministry said: “If India is striking at so-called terrorist backers without a shred of evidence, we also retain reciprocal rights to retaliate against elements that enjoy Indian patronage while carrying out acts of terror in Pakistan.”
Neville Lazurus said: “There have been claims and counter-claims. We are seeing an escalation from both sides,” he said.
“We don’t know how far this is going to go but for the moment tensions remain between the two nuclear-armed neighbours.”
Pakistan’s prime minister Imran Khan said it was not in his country’s interests “to go to war” with India and called for calm in a televised address to the nation.
He said while he had warned his neighbours there would be a response to Tuesday’s attack, it was time for “sense” to prevail, and added: “If this escalates, where will this go?… Let’s sit together to talk to find a solution.”
As a result of the heightened tensions, Pakistan’s civil aviation authority earlier shut its airspace to all commercial flights – before it was partially reopened.
An Indian air force official said it had ordered the closure of Kashmir’s main airport in Srinagar and three others in neighbouring states.
Several Indian airlines announced services to cities including Amritsar, Chandigarh, Dehradun, Jammu, Leh and Srinagar were affected due to airspace restrictions.
IndiGo, GoAir, Jet Airways and Vistara said flights to several airports were on hold or temporarily suspended.
Sky’s foreign affairs editor Deborah Haynes said “We are watching and waiting to see how India responds because obviously it will be very uncomfortable viewing to have seen that Indian pilot being paraded by the Pakistani military – in violation of the Geneva Convention as well it would seem because you are not supposed to show your captives.
“The international community is very much giving the message of dialogue over military action.
“You have to remember what is at stake here. They are both nuclear-armed nations.”
She said the last time both countries were on the brink of war was 20 years ago, when then US president Bill Clinton intervened and managed to defuse the conflict.
The disputed territory has been termed a nuclear flashpoint – and both countries have fought three wars over the area since the end of British rule in 1947 and the subsequent partition of the Indian subcontinent along religious lines.
The then ruler of the region, Maharaja Hari Singh ceded the territory to India – not Pakistan – which triggered the first war.
The United Nations intervened and established the existing Line of Control dividing Kashmir between the two countries and said a vote should be held by the Kashmiri people to decide their own future – which has never been held.
(c) Sky News 2019: Pakistan shoots down two Indian warplanes and captures pilot