Tension in the air

An Indian Airforce Pilot was captured by Pakistan after an air combat during which the two sides said they shot down each other’s warplanes that followed an unsuccessful attempt to target Indian military installations in retaliatory strikes that sparked fears of war. The aerial engagement between India and Pakistan for the first time since the 1971 war marked a dramatic escalation of confrontation prompting world leaders to urge the two neighbouring countries to exercise “utmost restraint”.

India said it shot down a F-16 warplane of Pakistan while it lost a MiG 21 during the fierce engagement between the air forces of the two countries along the Line of Control. Initially Pakistan claimed to have captured two IAF pilots, but later the Army claimed that it has only one Indian pilot, who was identified as Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman. At least three separate video footages of the IAF pilot in Pakistan army’s custody emerged.

The Ministry of External Affairs also confirmed that an IAF pilot was in Pakistan custody, but didn’t identify him. The MEA summoned the Acting High Commissioner of Pakistan, Syed Haider Shah, to lodge a strong protest at the “unprovoked act of aggression by Pakistan against India”.

In a demarche, the Indian government stated that it would be “well advised to ensure that no harm comes to the Indian defence personnel in its custody” and that India expects his “immediate and safe return”.

“India also 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,” the demarche added.

In the evening, Pakistani military spokesperson Major General Asif Ghafoor said, “There is only one pilot under Pakistan Army’s custody. Wing Comd Abhi Nandan is being treated as per norms of military ethics.”

Prime Minister Narendra Modi met the chiefs of Air Force, Navy and the Army along with National Security Advisor Ajit Doval. The meeting lasted close to 90 minutes and sources said the preparedness and possible course of action were discussed.

According to official sources, three Pakistani fighter jets entered Indian air space at 9.58 am to target key military installations in Rajouri and Naushera in Jammu and Kashmir, as part of the retaliatory strike. Though three Pakistani jets violated Indian air space, the package of the aircraft deployed by Pakistan Air Force for the operation was “significantly large” as it comprised a fleet of JF-17 and F-16 combat aircraft, the sources said. Sources said the Pakistani jets targeted Indian army’s bases in Krishna Ghati and Nangi Tekri and an ammunition point in Narian. However, the bombs dropped by the Pakistani jets fell in uninhabited areas.

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