ISLAMABAD/NEW DELHI: Pakistan shot down two Indian jets on Wednesday, a spokesman for the Pakistan armed forces said, a day after Indian warplanes struck inside Pakistan for the first time since a war in 1971, prompting leading powers to urge the nuclear-armed rivals to show restraint.
Tensions have been elevated since a suicide car bombing by Pakistan-based militants in Indian-controlled Kashmir killed at least 40 Indian paramilitary police on Feb 14, but the risk of conflict rose dramatically on Tuesday when India launched an air strike on what it said was a militant training base.
The attack targeted the Jaish-e-Mohammed militant, the group that claimed credit for the suicide attack. But while India said a large number of JeM fighters had been killed, Pakistani officials said the Indian airstrike was a failure and inflicted no casualties.
Indian air force planes strayed into Pakistani airspace on Wednesday after Pakistan had carried out airstrikes in Indian-occupied Kashmir, said Major General Asif Ghafoor, a spokesman for the Pakistan armed forces.
“PAF shot down two Indian aircraft inside Pakistani airspace,” he said in a tweet.
One of the aircraft fell on India’s side of Kashmir, while the second came down in Pakistani-held territory, and its pilot was captured, he added.
A spokesman for India’s defence ministry was not immediately available for comment.
Police officials in Indian-occupied Kashmir said that two Indian pilots and a civilian had died after an Indian air force plane crashed in Kashmir, but did not confirm if the plane had been shot down by Pakistani forces.
Indian officials said three Pakistani jets had also entered Indian airspace, before being intercepted and forced to turn back.
The Indian air force has ordered Kashmir’s main airport in Srinagar, along with at least three others in neighbouring states, to be closed because of the two incidents, an official said.
On Tuesday evening, Pakistan began shelling, using heavy calibre weapons, in 12 to 15 places along the de facto border in Kashmir, known as the Line of Control (LoC), a spokesman for the Indian defence forces said.
“The Indian Army retaliated for effect and our focused fire resulted in severe destruction to five posts and a number of casualties,” the spokesman said.
Five Indian soldiers suffered minor wounds in the shelling that ended on Wednesday morning, he added.
“So far, there are no (civilian) casualties but there is panic among people,” said Rahul Yadav, the deputy commissioner of the Poonch district where some of the shelling took place.
“We have an evacuation plan in place and if the need arises, we will evacuate people to safer areas,” he said.
Local officials on the Pakistani side said at least four people had been killed and seven wounded, though it was unclear if the casualties were civilian or military.
India has also continued its crackdown on suspected militants operating in Kashmir, a mountainous region that both countries claim in full but rule in part.
On Wednesday, security forces killed two Jaish militants in a gun battle, Indian police said.
Pakistan has promised to retaliate against Tuesday’s air strikes, and security across India has been tightened. The two countries have fought three wars since independence from British colonial rule in 1947 and went to the brink of a fourth in 2002 after a Pakistani militant attack on India’s Parliament.
In Mumbai, India’s financial capital, there was a visible increase in security levels for a city that has suffered numerous militant attacks in the past.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo spoke separately with the foreign ministers of India and Pakistan and urged them to avoid “further military activity” following Tuesday’s air strike.
“I expressed to both ministers that we encourage India and Pakistan to exercise restraint, and avoid escalation at any cost,” Pompeo said in a statement on Wednesday.
“I also encouraged both ministers to prioritise direct communication and avoid further military activity,” he said.
Both China and the European Union have also called for restraint. On Wednesday, New Zealand’s foreign minister Winston Peters also voiced concern over the escalation in tensions.