PM holds high-level meeting after Imran Khan’s appeal for dialogue
An Indian pilot was captured by Pakistan after a major aerial confrontation and chase between Pakistan Air Force planes, which dropped bombs in four locations of Jammu and Kashmir, and Indian Air Force jets that countered them over the Line of Control (LoC).
The confrontation began after Pakistan sent several aircraft to the LoC on Wednesday morning in retaliation for the Indian Air Force strike on a Jaish-e-Mohammad camp in Balakot a day earlier.
The government said IAF jets shot down an F-16 jet of the PAF in the skirmish, and the wreckage had fallen on the Pakistan side. Pakistan’s military, however, denied the loss of any aircraft.
The pilot, Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman, began to chase the Pakistani jets and push them back, when he had to eject over the LoC after the MiG-21 he was flying was shot by a Pakistani plane and then landed in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, where he was taken into custody.
Manhandled by crowd
In various amateur videos, Wg. Cdr. Varthaman is seen being manhandled by a crowd in PoK.
In the evening, Prime Minister Narendra Modi held a meeting of the service chiefs, National Security Adviser Ajit Doval and other senior officials to take stock of the day’s developments and Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan’s appeal for dialogue to de-escalate the situation.
“India strongly objected to Pakistan’s vulgar display of an injured personnel of the Indian Air Force in violation of all norms of International Humanitarian Law and the Geneva Convention. It was made clear that Pakistan would be well advised to ensure that no harm comes to the Indian defence personnel in its custody. India also expects his immediate and safe return,” the government said in its démarche.
Later, the Pakistan military released a video of Wg Cdr Varthaman drinking tea and speaking to Pakistani military personnel as proof that he had not been harmed.
PAF claims it didn’t cross LoC
According to a release from the Pakistani Foreign Ministry, the PAF had carried out strikes without crossing the LoC at “non-military targets, avoiding human loss and collateral damage”, in words that mirrored the MEA statement on Tuesday.
Pakistan military spokesperson Maj. Gen. Asif Ghafoor also said that PAF aircraft in the operation had “locked into six targets” including supply depots in Bhimber gali, Rajouri and Nowshera in Jammu and Kashmir, and claimed they dropped bombs in open areas “at a safe distance” from four of them in an effort to “prove their capability and resolve” to retaliate if required.
Rejecting the Pakistani claims, the MEA said that Pakistan’s aerial response had in fact targeted military installations on the Indian side and “due to [IAF’s] high state of readiness and alertness, Pakistan’s attempts were foiled successfully.”
Terming the Pakistani operations an “unprovoked act of aggression”, the government said India reserves the right to “take firm and decisive action”, calling for the immediate return of the pilot.
India summons Pak Acting High Commissioner
India handed over its protest in a démarche to the Pakistan Acting High Commissioner Syed Haider Shah who was summoned by the Joint Secretary in the Ministry Deepak Mittal.
Referring to the Indian strikes on Balakot on Tuesday, the MEA said it had also handed over a dossier to Mr. Shah with “specific details of JeM complicity in the Pulwama terror attack and the presence of JeM terror camps and its leadership in Pakistan” and called on Pakistan to take immediate action against terrorism emanating from its territory.
With the possibility of escalation growing, several countries rushed in to appeal for restraint from New Delhi and Islamabad.