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Pakistan, India claim downing of each other’s warplanes in Kashmir escalation

An Indian soldier. (Fred W. Baker III/Department of Defense)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

Pakistan and India say they have shot down each other’s warplanes in a dramatic escalation of their conflict over the disputed region of Kashmir.

The Pakistani military initially said on February 27 that the country’s air force had downed two India Air Force jets in its airspace and captured two pilots on the ground in the Pakistan-controlled part of Kashmir.

But a spokesman later tweeted that there was “only one pilot under Pakistan Army’s custody.”

India confirmed the loss of one of its fighter jets and said a pilot was missing while it foiled an attack by Pakistan jets over the Himalayan region. It also said that it had shot down a Pakistani jet.

Amid the escalation, Pakistan closed its airspace to commercial flights “until further notice,” while airports were shut in India and a vast area of airspace north of New Delhi was closed to civilian flights.

The developments come a day after Indian warplanes carried out an air strike in northeastern Pakistan on what New Delhi said was a militant training camp.

The aerial attack was the first launched across the Line of Control (LoC) that serves as a de facto border in Kashmir since a war between the two neighbors in 1971.

Tensions have been high between Islamabad and New Delhi since a February 14 suicide attack that killed at least 41 Indian troops in Muslim-majority Kashmir, which is claimed by both countries.

In an address to the nation, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan on February 27 called for talks with India and expressed hope that “better sense” will prevail to deescalate the situation.

“History tells us that wars are full of miscalculation. My question is that given the weapons we have, can we afford miscalculation?” Khan said. “We should sit down and talk.”

Earlier in the day, Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj said that his country “does not wish to see further escalation.”

“India will continue to act with responsibility and restraint,” Swaraj said during a visit to China.

Nuclear-armed India and Pakistan have fought two of their three full-fledged wars over the Himalayan territory since their partition during independence from Britain in 1947.

In a separate incident on February 27, a helicopter crashed and exploded into flames outside the main city of Srinagar in Indian-administered Kashmir, killing three people, local officials said. The cause of the crash was unknown.

The day also saw shelling across the LoC that killed six civilians on the Pakistani side, authorities said.

India said its air strike early on February 26 killed “a very large number” of militants. Pakistan denied there had been casualties but warned that it would respond to what it called Indian “aggression.”

The Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) militant group claimed responsibility for the February 14 attack on Indian security forces.

India said its neighbor had a “direct hand” in the attack and accused it of providing sanctuary to the militants. Islamabad denies involvement.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has called on India and Pakistan to avoid further military activity.

In a February 26 statement, Pompeo said he had spoken with his Indian and Pakistani counterparts.

“I expressed to both ministers that we encourage India and Pakistan to exercise restraint, and avoid escalation at any cost. I also encouraged both ministers to prioritize direct communication and avoid further military activity,” he said.

The European Union, Russia, and China, a Pakistani ally, have also urged India and Pakistan to exercise “restraint” after the Indian air strike in Pakistani territory.