Pakistan and India said Wednesday they had shot down each other’s warplanes, in a dramatic escalation in the standoff between the nuclear-armed neighbors.
Pakistan also said it had carried out airstrikes on the Indian side of the Line of Control in the disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir, following Indian airstrikes on alleged terror targets on Pakistani territory a day earlier.
The high-stakes clashes, stemming from tensions over a Pakistani-based militant group’s attack on Indian forces earlier this month, mark the first time in history that two nuclear-armed powers have carried out airstrikes on each other.
Leaders on both sides Wednesday called for restraint, to prevent the situation from lurching closer to war.
What happened Wednesday?
Pakistan’s military said it had shot down two Indian warplanes in its airspace in the disputed region of Kashmir, one of which came down on the Pakistani side of the border. It said the Indian jets had entered its airspace after Pakistan carried out six airstrikes in Indian-controlled Kashmir.
Pakistan’s information ministry tweeted footage of the burning wreckage of one of the jets, with the message: “Well done, Pakistan Air Force. The entire nation is proud of you.”
Maj.-Gen. Asif Ghafoor, spokesman for Pakistan’s military, said the pilot was in the custody of the Pakistani Army, where he was being treated “per the norms of military ethics.” Pakistan's information ministry released a video purportedly the man, blindfolded and bloodied, being questioned, identifying himself to his captors as Wing-Commander Abhi Nandan. India confirmed the loss of one of its jets and the capture of a pilot, and said it had also shot down one of the Pakistani warplanes involved in the skirmish — although Pakistan denied it had lost a jet.
Pakistan said it had carried out Wednesday’s strikes on Indian soil to demonstrate it had the capability to defend itself, and to prevent India from “doing acts of aggression at whatever pretext they wish on a given day.
”It said it had carried out the strikes on non-military targets, and with prior warning, to avoid inflaming the situation by hitting military or civilian targets. "We don't want to go on the path of war," said Ghafoor.
But India disputed Pakistan’s version of events, saying the Pakistani air force had targeted an Indian military installation but had been repelled, with a Pakistani jet shot down and falling on its side of the border.
What happened Tuesday?
India has been braced for retaliation since it carried out its air sorties into Pakistan in the early hours of Tuesday, the first since 1971. But exactly what happened there is disputed as well.
Both sides agree that Indian jets made it near Balakot, a city near the Line of Control. But while India hit a training camp of Jaish-e-Mohammed, the militant Islamist group behind the Feb. 14 suicide attack on an Indian convoy, killing “a very large number” of fighters, Pakistan said Indian jets were repelled and dropped their bombs in an open field.
Tensions between India and Pakistan have been soaring since a suicide bomber killed 42 Indian paramilitary troops on Feb. 14 in Pulwama, Kashmir. The bombing was claimed by the Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammed, but Pakistan has denied having any involvement in the attack.
What happens next?
India and Pakistan have already fought two wars over Kashmir in the past, and both sides now stress a willingness to de-escalate the situation to avoid another devastating conflict.
Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan said Wednesday his government sought dialogue with India, and urged for "better sense to prevail."
"I am addressing India: It is very important that we use wisdom," he said in a televised address, pledging to cooperate over security in Kashmir and stand together against terrorists.Indian Foreign Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj also said Wednesday that her government would act “with responsibility and restraint.”
"India does not wish to see further escalation of the situation," she said. The sudden escalation prompted the U.S. to make its first public comments on the situation Wednesday. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said he had spoken to the foreign ministers of both countries and urged them 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 tensions Wednesday led Pakistan to shut its airspace, while a number of Indian airports also closed.