MEA spokesperson Raveesh Kumar confirmed there was an air to air engagement between the Indian and Pakistani air forces early Wednesday morning.
An Indian Air Force pilot was captured by Pakistan after an air combat on Wednesday during which the two sides said they shot down each other’s warplanes that followed an unsuccessful attempt to target Indian military installations in retaliatory strikes that sparked fears of war.
The aerial engagement between India and Pakistan for the first time since the 1971 war marked a dramatic escalation of confrontation prompting world leaders to urge the two neighbouring countries to exercise “utmost restraint”. India said it shot down a F-16 warplane of Pakistan while it lost a MiG 21 during the fierce engagement between the air forces of the two countries along the Line of Control.
Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan sought to defuse the escalating tension by saying war is futile and can lead to unknown consequences while making an oblique reference to the nuclear weapons that both countries possess.
“I ask India: with the weapons you have and the weapons we have, can we really afford a miscalculation? If this (situation) escalates, it will no longer be in my control or in (Prime Minister) Narendra Modi’s,” Khan said in a live television broadcast, as he offered to hold talks with India to resolve issues.
The ministry of external affairs summoned the acting high commissioner of Pakistan Syed Haider Shah and demanded immediate and safe return of the pilot identified as Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman.
It was also made clear to Pakistan that no harm should be caused to the Indian defence personnel, the ministry said, adding it has conveyed strong objection to the neighbouring country at the “vulgar display” of an injured personnel in violation of all norms of International Humanitarian Law and the Geneva Convention.
In a strongly worded statement, the MEA said the envoy was clearly told that India reserves the right to take “firm and decisive action to protect its national security”.
Pakistan detained the pilot following the aerial engagement in which a Pakistani jet, stated to be a F-16, was downed by Indian air defence forces in Jammu region’s Rajouri sector. The IAF also lost a MiG 21 jet in the engagement, an Indian official said. Pakistan has denied losing a jet.
The Pakistan army retracted its earlier statement that two IAF pilots were arrested and in the evening said it had “only one” pilot in its custody.
“There is only one pilot under Pakistan army’s custody. Wing Comd Abhi Nandan is being treated as per norms of military ethics,” Pakistani military spokesperson Major General Asif Ghafoor said in the evening.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi was given an update on the latest security situation by the chiefs of the three armed forces following violation of Indian airspace by Pakistani fighter jets in Jammu and Kashmir and the capture of the Indian pilot across the LoC, sources said. National Security Advisor Ajit Doval, senior officials of the Indian Navy, Army and the Air Force and other security officials also had a meeting to discuss the current security situation, they said.
WATCH: MEA spokesperson addresses the media on Pakistan's use of aircraft on Wednesday morning
A day after India bombed Jaish-e-Mohammed’s biggest training camp in Pakistan, it was a day of hectic developments moving with dizzying rapidity.
Three Pakistani fighter jets entered Indian air space at 9:58 am to target key military installations in Rajouri and Naushera in Jammu and Kashmir, as part of the retaliatory strike, official sources said.
Though three Pakistani jets violated Indian air space, the package of the aircraft deployed by Pakistan air force for the operation was “significantly large” as it comprised a fleet of JF-17 and F-16 combat aircraft, the sources said.
The sources said the Pakistani jets targeted Indian army’s bases in Krishna Ghati and Nangi Tekri and an ammunition point in Narian. However, the bombs dropped by the Pakistani jets fell in uninhabited areas.
Minutes after Pakistani jets violated Indian air space, the IAF’s Combat Air Patrol, comprising MiG-21 and other jets engaged with the enemy aircraft, successfully thwarting their attempts to bomb a number of key military installations in Naushera and Rajouri, they said.
Islamabad claimed it hit back at India by bringing down two Indian military aircraft, one of which crashed in Pakistan occupied Kashmir while the other fell in Jammu and Kashmir.
“This morning PAF jets while remaining in Pakistani airspace engaged six targets across the LoC,” Major General Asif Ghafoor told reporters in Islamabad.
“Our pilots locked on those six targets and we struck on open places,” he said, adding that it was decided that the PAF will not hit the military targets.
He said some of the targets were in Bhimber galli and Naran area where the supply depots were engaged from a distance.
“After the PAF strikes, 2 IAF jets entered Pakistani airspace and the PAF took them on and the two IAF were shot down. The wreckage of one (aircraft) fell inside Pakistan-occupied Kashmir while the second fell inside India.”
“Original targets were military posts and administrative facilities but we did not target those,” he said.
The spokesman claimed that targets engaged by the PAF were changed to avoid any loss of life.
“It was not retaliation in the true sense but it was an action to show that we can retaliate. We do not want to push the region to war. We want peace.”
As tension mounted, the entire airspace north of New Delhi was briefly “vacated”. Nine airports in Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh and Punjab were closed for civilian traffic for some part of the morning but opened later in the day.
Jammu and Kashmir was the centre of much of the action on a day of escalating tensions between the two neighbours.
There was also nightlong heavy firing and shelling on forward and civilian areas from across the LoC in Rajouri and Poonch with the Army and the Border Security Force being put on the highest degree of alertness.
All residents of the border areas were asked to remain inside their homes and not venture outside.
In a terse press statement earlier in the day, External Affairs Ministry Spokesperson Raveesh Kumar, accompanied by Air Vice Marshal R G K Kapoor, said, “Pakistan has responded this morning by using its Air Force to target military installations on the Indian side. Due to our high state of readiness and alertness, Pakistan’s attempts were foiled successfully.”
He said the Pakistan air force activity was detected and the Indian Air Force responded instantly.
“In that aerial engagement, one Pakistan Air Force fighter aircraft was shot down by a MiG 21 Bison of the Indian Air Force. The Pakistani aircraft was seen by ground forces falling from the sky on the Pakistan side.
“In this engagement, we have unfortunately lost one MiG 21. The pilot is missing in action....”
Expressing concern over the well-being of the IAF pilot, leaders of various parties said Pakistan should abide by Geneva Convention and ensure his safe return home.
European Union diplomatic chief Federica Mogherini called on India and Pakistan to show the “utmost restraint” in their escalating confrontation. British Prime Minister Theresa May also urged both the countries to exercise restraint to avoid further escalation.