Pakistan says it has shot down two Indian air force planes in clashes over the line of control in the disputed region of Kashmir, and that an Indian pilot who came down in Pakistani territory has been captured.
A Pakistani jet may also have been shot down over Pakistan-administered Kashmir, India’s ANI news agency reported, though that is yet to be confirmed by officials.
The clashes represent a significant escalation since India said on Tuesday it had successfully bombed a major Pakistani militant training camp, in the first airstrikes across the de facto border in Kashmir since 1971.
Indian officials confirmed at least one of its aircraft came down in Indian-administered Kashmir and that both pilots and a civilian were killed. They did not say whether the plane had been shot down.
Live flight tracking data showed commercial jets turning back from the region and Indian police said the main airport in Kashmir, Srinagar, had been closed. Indian airline Vistara said that “due to airspace restrictions”, it was stopping flights to four northern Indian cities including Srinagar and as deep into India as Chandigarh. Reuters reported that four Pakistani airports had also halted flights.
In a statement on its foreign ministry website entitled ‘Pakistan strikes back’, Islamabad said it had “under[taken] strikes across the line of control from within Pakistani airspace” on Wednesday morning.
The statement said the strikes hit “non-military targets, avoiding human loss and collateral damage”. It said the raid was intended as a show of force, “to demonstrate our right, will and capability for self defense”.
In a further statement, an armed forces spokesman said India had responded to the strike by scrambling its own fighter jets, some of which crossed the line of control into Pakistan-administered Kashmir.
“PAF shot down two Indian aircrafts inside Pakistani airspace. One of the aircraft fell inside AJ&K (Pakistan-administered Kashmir) while other fell inside IOK (Indian-administered Kashmir),” said Maj General Asif Ghafoor.
The incident comes after an Indian government minister said it had “completely destroyed” a major base of Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM), the militant group which claimed the deadly 14 February car bomb attack on Indian soldiers in Pulwama, Kashmir. Pakistan said Tuesday morning’s bombing raid had caused no damage or loss of life, but vowed to respond in due course nonetheless.
Meanwhile on Wednesday morning, the Pakistani police claimed Indian shelling across the treaty-agreed line of control in Kashmir had killed at least six civilians on the Pakistan side.
Indian and Pakistani forces regularly exchange fire across the border region, but observers say fighting has been particularly fierce since news broke of India’s air sortie on Tuesday. It was the first time either side had conducted airstrikes across the line of control since the last major war between the two countries over Kashmir ended in 1971.
Since the 14 February bombing, which killed 40 Indian paramilitary officers and which the Indian government blamed on Pakistan, the international community has urged both sides to exercise restraint and avoid further military escalation.