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Escalating Tensions

by Newsweek Pakistan

The remains of the Indian plane reportedly shot down by Pakistani forces. Courtesy PTV

Pakistan Army spokesman announces an Indian pilot has been arrested following downing of two aircraft inside Pakistani airspace

Pakistan’s military spokesman, Maj. Gen. Asif Ghafoor, on Wednesday announced on Twitter that the Pakistan Air Force had shot down two Indian aircraft that had intruded inside Pakistani airspace.

“In response to PAF strikes this morning as released by MoFA, IAF crossed LOC,” he said, referring to a morning intrusion by Pakistani fighter jets into Indian-Occupied Kashmir. “PAF shot down two Indian aircrafts inside Pakistani airspace. One of the aircraft fell inside AJ&K while other fell inside IOK. One Indian pilot arrested by troops on ground while two in the area,” he added.

The Press Trust of India reported that the Pakistani planes had crossed at Poonch and Nowshera, two locations on the Indian side of the Line of Control, but were repelled. PTI said the Pakistani jets had dropped bombs while returning but that there were no immediate reports of casualties or damage.

The incursions over the heavily militarized Line of Control come a day after Indian warplanes carried out an airstrike in Pakistan—the first since 1971—on what New Delhi said was a militant training camp, in retaliation for a suicide bombing in Indian-Occupied Kashmir that killed 40 Indian troops on Feb. 14. That bombing was claimed by the Jaish-e-Mohammed militant group but was staged by a local.

A statement from Pakistan’s Foreign Office clarified that the morning sortie was not in retaliation to “continued Indian belligerence.” It said that Pakistan had conducted strikes against non-military targets, avoiding any loss of human life or collateral damage. “[The] sole purpose of [the strike was] to demonstrate our right, will and capability for self-defense,” it said, adding, “We have no intention of escalation, but are fully prepared to do so if forced into that paradigm.”

On Tuesday, following the airstrike, Pakistan’s military spokesman Maj. Gen. Asif Ghafoor had told a press conference that Islamabad would respond to the air raids in a decisive manner at a time and place of its choosing. He dismissed claims from Indian Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale that a “large number” of terrorists had been killed in the Indian strike, demanding New Delhi show proof of any casualties. In his press conference, Ghafoor claimed India “always” lies to its people but this time Pakistan will expose its lies.

Admitting that Indian Air Force fighter jets had intruded into Pakistani territory, the Army spokesman said the neighboring nation’s forces had initially tried to sneak into Pakistani territory from the Sialkot-Lahore and Bahawalpur regions, but had turned back after being challenged by Combat Air Patrol teams. He said a greater fleet had then crossed the Line of Control “for a few minutes” through the Muzaffarabad-Keran valley, entering 4-5 nautical miles into Pakistan’s territory before being repulsed by the Pakistan Air Force and jettisoning their payload on the Jabba region of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province.

The Indian strike has brought ties between the two nuclear-armed nations to dangerous levels and Prime Minister Imran Khan has summoned a ‘special’ meeting of the National Command Authority—the body that oversees Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal—on Wednesday. In a meeting earlier in the day, Khan had slammed the Indian move as an election campaigning exercise by the Narendra Modi-led government. India has general elections due in April and May.

The prime minister, in his statement, directed the armed forces and people of Pakistan to remain prepared for all eventualities.

“It’s now our turn,” Ghafoor had said in his press conference. “We will surprise you [India] as it’s a matter of time,” he said, adding that Islamabad did not wish to redirect 200,000 soldiers currently policing its western borders to deal with Indian aggression, as it would hamper anti-terror efforts and give free rein to Al Qaeda, Islamic State and Taliban militants to enter Pakistani soil.

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