ISLAMABAD: The spokesman for the Pakistani military said on Wednesday the country had carried out airstrikes on six targets across its border with India and shot down two Indian warplanes in the steepest escalation of conflict between the two nuclear-armed neighbors since they fought a brief war in the Himalayas in 1999.
Pakistan’s actions on Wednesday come a day after it said Indian jets had violated the Line of Control (LoC) which splits the disputed Kashmir valley into two parts, one administered by Pakistan, the other by India.
India claims it hit a militant training camp inside Pakistan on Tuesday morning but Pakistan says Indian jets were barely in its airspace for a few minutes before being chased away by Pakistani warplanes without any damage to lives or infrastructure.
Tensions between the two arch-rivals have sharply risen since a suicide car bombing by Pakistan-based militants in Indian-controlled Kashmir killed at least 40 Indian paramilitary policemen on February 14. New Delhi had warned of a “strong response.”
Pakistan’s retaliatory airstrikes on Wednesday dramatically increase the risk of escalation between the two nations who have fought three wars since they gained independence from the British in 1947, two of them over Kashmir.
“Pakistan armed forces and Pakistan air force had no choice but to give an answer … in the manner of a responsible nation,” Military Spokesman Maj. Gen. Asif Ghafoor said at a press conference in the garrison city of Rawalpindi.
Ghafoor said Pakistan had identified military and administrative posts in three locations in Indian-administered Kashmir and struck on open ground at a safe distance from the sites to avoid military and civilian casualties.
“We don’t want escalation; we don’t want to go towards war,” Ghafoor added, saying the military’s aim was simply to send India a message that Pakistan had “the will, capability, and resolve” to defend itself.
After Pakistan’s airstrikes in India, two Indian jets crossed into Pakistan to take retaliatory action but were shot down, the army spokesman said. The wreckage of one of the two planes fell in Pakistan-administered Kashmir and the other across the border in the Indian part of the valley.
Ghafoor later tweeted that an India pilot had been arrested and would be treated as per the "norms of military ethics."
The Indian government rejected the Pakistani account and foreign minister Raveesh Kumar said India had shot down a Pakistani jet that violated its airspace on Wednesday. The Pakistani military spokesman denied the jet was shot down and insisted Pakistan had not breached the Line of Control.
"They (India) have violated our air space but Pakistan has not crossed the LoC. That's because we are a responsible nation," Ghafoor said.
In an address to the nation on Wednesday afternoon, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan urged New Delhi to opt for talks to resolve outstanding issues.
“We should sit down and resolve our problems through dialogue,” the prime minister said.
"The history of the world teaches us that there are miscalculations in war,” Khan added. “My question to the Indian government is: the [nuclear] weapons you have and the weapons we have, can we afford miscalculation? Shouldn't we think that if this [conflict] escalates, what will it lead to?"
In separate phone calls to the foreign ministers of India and Pakistan, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo urged them to avoid “further military activity.”
“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.
China and the European Union have also called for restraint.