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Kashmir escalation: Pakistan ‘shoots down two Indian jets’

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Indian news agency reports Pakistani jet may have been shot down on day of skirmishes

HAH Report

Pakistan says it has conducted airstrikes over Kashmir’s ceasefire line and shot down two Indian jets. PAF

Pakistan says it has shot down two Indian Air Force jets in a major escalation of the Kashmir conflict.

An army spokesman said one of the planes had fallen inside Pakistan and a pilot had been arrested. There is no confirmation from India which claimed to have shot down a Pakistani aircraft.

Pakistan’s armed forces spokesman, Major-General Asif Ghafoor, claimed that in response to the strikes, Indian jets crossed the ceasefire line. Two were shot down, he said. “One of the aircraft fell inside AJK [Pakistan-controlled Kashmir] while other fell inside IOK [Indian-controlled Kashmir]. One Indian pilot arrested by troops on ground while two in the area,” he said on Twitter.

Also on Wednesday, foreign ministry said Pakistani jets had launched air strikes across the Line of Control (LoC).

Pakistan said it had “taken strikes at [a] non-military target, avoiding human loss and collateral damage”.

Indian authorities said the Pakistani jets had been pushed back.

Troops have also been shelling across the LoC. Four Pakistani civilians were killed and 10 others were injured in cross-border shelling on Tuesday.

On the Indian side, five soldiers were also injured in the firing, officials told the BBC. Schools in at least two districts along the LoC — Rajouri and Poonch — have been closed.

People living along the de facto border have been asked to leave their homes.

The incursions, a day after India flew sorties into Pakistan for the first time in nearly 50 years, are the latest escalations in the most serious military crisis in south Asia since the nuclear-armed neighbours fought a brief war in the Himalayas in 1999. The aerial attacks across the LoC are the first since a war between the two countries in 1971.

The Indian news agency ANI reported on Wednesday that a Pakistani F-16 fighter jet was also shot down on its side of the ceasefire line dividing the two armies in Kashmir.

Pakistan has suspended domestic air travel in Lahore, Islamabad and other cities. At least one private Indian airliner, Vistara, said airspace across north India had been closed and flights to and from Amritsar, Srinagar, Chandigarh and Jammu have been put on hold.

A senior Indian official told the Guardian the Pakistani jets were likely to have struck three evacuated villages, Nadian, Lam and Jhangar, in the border district of Rajouri shortly after 10.30am. “The Indian air force responded strongly and they were pushed back,” the official said.

The raids follow a militant attack in Pulwama, Indian-administered Kashmir which killed 40 Indian troops.

An Indian aircraft crashed about 150km away in Budgam district on Wednesday morning, killing at least one person aboard, but it is unclear if the incident was linked.

India has been on high alert since Tuesday’s strikes, an operation Islamabad promised to repay with its own “surprise” attack.

Fighter jets patrolled the skies above Srinagar, the capital of disputed Kashmir, throughout Tuesday night as India and Pakistan traded mortar fire a few hundred miles away at the ceasefire border.

The US secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, issued a statement largely supportive of India, characterising its incursion five miles into neighbouring territory a “counter terrorism action” and calling on Pakistan to take “meaningful action against terrorist groups operating on its soil”.

There are still significant questions over what, if anything, was struck by India’s fighter jets in the early hours of Tuesday morning. Both countries agree that Indian jets made it to within at least a few miles of Balakot, a small city about five miles inside Pakistani territory. But accounts diverge from there.

India claims it hit a militant training camp and killed “a very large number” of fighters from the Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) group, which took responsibility for a 14 February suicide bombing in Indian-controlled Kashmir that killed 40 paramilitaries.

Pakistan says the Indian fighters were confronted before they could reach Balakot and dropped four to five bombs in an open field as they fled back across the border.

Both countries mounted media blitzes to push their particular narrative but had appeared to leave room to de-escalate the conflict.

On Wednesday morning, India’s external affairs minister, Sushma Swaraj, emphasised that Pakistan’s military was not the target of the sorties.

“No military installations were targeted,” Swaraj said. “The limited objective of the pre-emptive strike was to act decisively against the terrorist infrastructure of the JeM in order to pre-empt another terrorist attack in India.”

She added: “India does not wish see further escalation of the situation and India will continued to act with responsibility and restraint.”

Pakistan is holding a joint session of parliament on Wednesday afternoon followed by a meeting of the National Command Authority, whose responsibilities include overseeing the country’s nuclear arsenal.

“It is your turn now to wait and get ready for our surprise,” Ghafoor said on Tuesday night.

Both armies accused the other of shelling villages and opposition army posts across the line of control that separates Indian and Pakistani controlled Kashmir.

A Pakistani police official told the Associated Press that six people were killed by Indian mortar attacks. Indian security officials did not report any casualties but said villages were hit including Kamalkote and Kalgo, both near the heavily guarded military border.

Two militants allegedly belonging to JeM were shot dead in Indian-controlled Kashmir Shopain district on Wednesday morning, in the fourth counter-insurgency operation since a car laden with explosives was detonated by an Indian paramilitary convoy, sparking the latest round of tensions between the nuclear-armed neighbours.

Markets and shops across Kashmir were shut on Wednesday in protest at the arrests of hundreds of separatist activists and leaders in the days before Tuesday’s military operations.

TIME LINE OF INDO-PAK TENSIONS

October 1947: First war between India and Pakistan over Kashmir just two months after they become independent nations.

August 1965: The neighbours fight another brief war over Kashmir.

December 1971: India supports East Pakistan’s bid to become independent. The Indian air force conducts bombing raids inside Pakistan. The war ends with the creation of Bangladesh.

May 1999: Pakistani soldiers and militants occupy Indian military posts in Kargil mountains. India launches air and ground strikes and the intruders are pushed back.

October 2001: A devastating attack on the state assembly in Indian-administered Kashmir kills 38. Two months later, an attack on the Indian parliament in Delhi leaves 14 dead.

November 2008: Co-ordinated attacks on Mumbai’s main railway station, luxury hotels and a Jewish cultural centre kill 166 people. India blames Pakistan-based group Lashkar-e-Taiba.

January 2016: Four-day attack on Indian air base in Pathankot leaves seven Indian soldiers and six militants dead.

18 September 2016: Attack on army base in Uri in Indian-administered Kashmir kills 19 soldiers.

30 September 2016: India says it carried “surgical strikes” on militants in Pakistani Kashmir. Islamabad denies strikes took place.–BBC

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