Unlikely as things stand now, but tensions are escalating at a pace that can endanger peace in the volatile region
On Tuesday evening, the Director-General of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Public Relations, Major General Asif Ghafoor, had threatened India with retaliation for violating the Pakistani air space in the early morning. On Wednesday morning, Pakistani jets crossed the Indian border and carried out bombing.
According to Mohammed Faisal, spokesperson of Pakistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Air Force “undertook strikes across the LoC from Pakistani airspace. Sole purpose of this action was to demonstrate our right, will and capability for self defence. We do not wish to escalate but are fully prepared if forced into that paradigm.” The spokesperson’s office also issued a statement saying they carried out the strike at a non-military target, avoiding human loss and collateral damage.
Later in the day, India’s Ministry of External Affairs confirmed that the Pakistani Air Force carried out air strike on the Indian side on Wednesday morning. “Against our counterterrorism action, Pakistan has responded this morning by using its air force,” the MEA said in a statement. But that was not all. Pakistan’s DG ISPR also said that Indian jets had crossed the border after the Pakistani jets carried out the attacks and two of them were shot down. “
In response to PAF strikes this morning as released by MoFA (Ministry of Foreign Affairs), the IAF crossed the LoC. The PAF shot down two Indian aircraft inside the Pakistani airspace. One of the aircraft fell inside AJ&K (Pakistan-held Kashmir) while other fell inside IOK (Indian Kashmir). One Indian pilot arrested by troops on ground while two in the area.” Ghafoor said.
Immediately after DG ISPR’s comment, photos emerged on Indian and Pakistani media of the wreckage of an Indian fighter jet, which was later found to be false. The initial report was that the plane crashed in Budgam district near Srinagar and two bodies were found. Pakistan later released a photograph of what they claimed the remains of the Indian plane that crashed on the Pakistani side of the border. They also claimed that one Indian pilot was under their custody. Later DG ISPR tweeted a picture of the IAF pilot Wing Cmdr Abhinandan.
Missing in action
In the MEA statement, issued in the afternoon, India admitted that one of its pilots was missing in action. India also claimed that one of the Pakistani jets was also shot down, which crashed on the Pakistani side of the border. No photograph has been offered. “The Pakistan Air Force was detected and the Indian Air Force responded instantly. In that aerial engagement, one Pakistan Air Force fighter aircraft was shot down by a MiG 21 Bison of the Indian Air Force. The Pakistani aircraft was seen by ground forces falling from the sky on the Pakistan side. 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,” read the MEA statement.
Prime Minister Imran Khan later said Pakistan shot down 2 Indian MIGs for violating “our air space and the pilots are with us”. He then offered cooperation to help India investigate the Pulwama tragedy” and hoped “better sense” to prevail and both countries need to resolve issues through talks. There are still contradicting facts. India says only one pilot is missing and one aircraft is down. Pakistan says “pilots” are under their custody and that they downed two Indian jets. India also says it shot down one Pakistani jet, but Islamabad won’t confirm this. Nor has India offered any evidence to substantiate its claim.
The bottomline is that, India claimed it hit a Jaish camp in Balakot and killed many terrorists, but it hasn’t offered any evidence. In return, Pakistan has violated Indian air space, and shot down at least one jet and taken one pilot (according to the Indian version.) What India does next? As national security analyst and international relations professor Happymon Jacob put it, “Would I be right in assuming that India is now faced with an unfavourable compromise on the one hand, and further escalation which would invariably involve more problems for sides?”