In a dramatic escalation, both India and Pakistan claimed to have shot down each other’s planes on Wednesday, hours after India bombed an alleged militant camp across the disputed Kashmir border. Following a deadly militant attack earlier this month, both nuclear-armed countries have conducted actions around the line of control (LoC) between their administered territories, prompting Canada, among others, to call for “maximum restraint” from both sides.
The events mark the first time in history that two nuclear-armed powers have launched air strikes against each other and the first Indian airstrikes on Pakistani territory in five decades. India said its strikes halted another imminent attack by Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM), which weeks ago killed 42 Indian ‘jawans’ – a term for both military and paramilitary personnel – in the deadliest attack in three decades of insurgency. According to Indian foreign secretary Vijay Gokhale, a “large number” of militants died in the Indian strike in Pakistan-administered territory.
Pakistan said that India’s strikes hit an unpopulated wooded area, and not the location of JeM, and denied involvement in the earlier bus bomb attack by JeM. Raising the stakes, Pakistan accused India’s subsequent cross-border shelling of killing six civilians, and Pakistan’s Prime Minister scheduled a special session of the body overseeing his country’s nuclear weapons.
Early Wednesday, Pakistan said it shot from Pakistani airspace across the LoC, downing two Indian fighter jets and arresting one pilot as a result, while India claimed Pakistan had shot down one, with one pilot missing. India further reported that it had engaged with Pakistani jets that violated Indian airspace and had shot down one of Pakistan’s fighter jets. Video and images showing a captured Indian pilot spread on social media, with one video showing a Pakistani soldier shielding the pilot from angry villagers.
In a potentially deescalating move, Pakistan decided to release the Indian pilot on Friday, a decision India acknowledged. Further reducing the risk of miscalculations, Pakistan and India suspended flights across major airports. However, politics on both sides continue to fan the flames, especially with India’s national elections just weeks away. Pakistani media warned that Pakistan’s retaliation could be the “last war” between the two countries, with an Indian minister promising to “get back to you, harder and stronger.”