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India Remains on ‘Heightened’ Alert

by AFP

A joint press conference of the Indian Air Force, Army and Navy in New Delhi on Feb. 28. AFP

Top military chiefs reiterate claims of downing Pakistani aircraft despite denials from Islamabad

Indian forces remain on a “heightened” state of alert despite Pakistan’s promise to free a pilot shot down in air raids this week, top Indian military chiefs said on Thursday.

Top generals from the Indian air force, army and navy also renewed claims that India had shot down a Pakistani F-16 jet in the air battles after an attack Wednesday on military installations in Indian-Occupied Kashmir. “We are fully prepared and in a heightened state of readiness to respond to any provocation from Pakistan,” said the army’s Major General Surendra Singh Mahal at a press conference.

He said ground-based air defense weapons had been “put on high alert” along the de facto border with Pakistan in Kashmir, across which both sides had fired shells in recent days as the crisis escalated. The top military officials also unveiled fragments from a missile they said matched the Pakistani F-16 fighter jet that crossed into Indian airspace and was shot down.

Pakistan has denied New Delhi’s assertions that one of its fighters was downed during a dogfight that also saw an Indian plane lost. The pilot of that jet, Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman, managed to eject but was apprehended by Pakistani troops on the other side of the border and taken into custody.

Pakistan said on Thursday it would release him as a “peace gesture,” taking a step towards rapprochement as clashes between the nuclear-armed rivals ignited fears of a disastrous conflict.

But India’s Air Vice Marshall RGK Kapoor said Pakistan’s decision to free the pilot, though welcome, simply followed international norms around prisoners of war. “We are extremely happy to have him back. We want to see him back,” he told reporters. “We only see it as a gesture which is in consonance with all Geneva conventions.”

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