NEW DELHI: In a highly escalatory move, Pakistani fighter jets crossed into Indian territory on Wednesday morning, and the pilot of a chasing Indian MiG-21 Bison was captured after it was shot down in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (PoK).
Pakistan too lost an aircraft, as an F-16 was shot down in the dogfight and its pilot had ejected over PoK, officials said. The tension led to the closure of all airports in J&K, Himachal Pradesh and Punjab, though they were opened later in the day.
In a terse press statement on Wednesday afternoon, External Affairs Ministry spokesperson Raveesh Kumar, accompanied by Air Vice Marshal R G K Kapoor, said details were being ascertained about Pakistan’s claim of having captured one Indian pilot. “In that aerial engagement, one Pakistan Air Force fighter aircraft was shot down by an 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,” he said.
Later, in an admission that its pilot had been captured, India summoned Pakistan’s Acting High Commissioner to lodge a strong protest against Pakistan’s “vulgar display” of an injured personnel of the IAF in violation of all humanitarian norms and the Geneva Convention. India also expects his immediate and safe return, he was told.
India said it reserves the right to take action to protect its security, sovereignty and territorial integrity.
In Islamabad, the Pakistan Army released a 46-second video showing a blindfolded man claiming he is IAF’s Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman. “I am an IAF officer. My service No is 27981,” the man is seen saying.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi chaired a high-level security meeting and met with the service chiefs in the evening, though details of those discussions were not known at the time of going to Press.
For his part, Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan said in a televised address that his country’s air force crossed the Line of Control only to show its capability. He urged India to consider talks instead of escalating things further. “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 Narendra Modi’s,” he said.
The international community, while endorsing India’s strike on a terrorist camp in Pakistan on Tuesday, urged calm and restraint from both sides. While the US urged Pakistan to take “meaningful action” against terror groups operating on its soil, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said he spoke to Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi and India’s External Affairs minister Sushma Swaraj. “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 prioritise direct communication and avoid further military activity,” he said.
Speaking in Moscow, a Kremlin spokesman said, “We are extremely concerned about the news coming in, we are very closely monitoring the situation and, of course, we urge all parties to show restraint.” President Putin’s press secretary Dmitry Peskov said, “Russia is concerned about the aggravation of relations between India and Pakistan and calls on both sides to show restraint.”
A statement released by the acting spokesperson of the French Ministry of Europe and Foreign Affairs, said, “France is concerned about the deterioration of the situation. It calls on Pakistan and India for de-escalation.”
Geneva norms on PoW ignored
Prisoners of War (PoWs) are protected against any act of violence, as well as against intimidation, insults, and public curiosity, according to Article 13 of the Geneva Convention. So, Pakistan releasing a video of the captured MiG pilot violated the Geneva norm. Also, Article 118 states: “PoWs shall be released and repatriated without delay after the cessation of active hostilities”