On Tuesday, the Indian Air Force (IAF) crossed the Line of Control (LoC) to strike Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) terror camps in Balakot, Pakistan.
After receiving intelligence, the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) said that around a dozen IAF jets bombed JeM camps and killed several JeM terrorists, trainers, and senior commanders.
However, since that strike, there have been numerous reports of Pakistani retaliation- not all have been verified or confirmed by the Indian government.
Among these, reports say that the IAF and Pakistani Air Force (PAF) exchanged fire on the LoC, an Indian pilot has been captured by Pakistani sources, and airports in North India have been shut down.
The MEA confirmed that an IAF aircraft is lost and the pilot is missing.
Moreover, Minister of Commerce and Industry and Civil Aviation Suresh Prabhu said that he is working out logistics with the Airports Authority of India.
‘Indian pilot missing in action’
In a statement released today, MEA Spokesperson Raveesh Kumar said that the PAF retaliated to India crossing the LoC to carry out the Balakot strike.
“Pakistan has responded this morning by using its Air Force to target military installations on the Indian side”, he said.
Kumar explained that Pakistan’s attempts to hit the bases were “foiled successfully” as one PAK aircraft was shot down by an IAF MiG 21 Bison. He added that the two air forces exchanged fire.
This kind of military escalation has not taken place since the Indo-Pak war of 1971.
Referring to the aerial confrontation, Kumar also said that an Indian pilot is missing.
“In this engagement, we have unfortunately lost one MiG 21. The pilot is missing in action. Pakistan has claimed that he is in their custody. We are ascertaining the facts”, he said.
In a press conference today, Spokesperson for the Pakistan Armed Forces Major General Asif Ghafoor said that Pakistan has struck back, but only to display its military capability.
Ghafoor previously tweeted that one Indian pilot was arrested when the wreckage of the shot aircraft fell in Azad Jammu and Kashmir, a self-governing area in the Pakistan-administered region of Kashmir.
However, in the press conference, he said that two Indian pilots have been arrested.
About 30 minutes ago, Ghafoor tweeted an image identifying the pilot as Wing Commander Abhi Nandan.
“There is only one pilot under Pakistan Army’s custody. Wing Comd Abi Nandan is being treated as per norms of military ethics”, he said.
In his press conference, Ghafoor clarified that the Pakistani Armed Forces do not want the issue to escalate into a full-blown war. “The route to peace goes through dialogue”, he said.
Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan also said that neither India nor Pakistan can afford a “miscalculation”.
“We want to come to the table and talk about terrorism that affects both the countries. We are ready. Let better sense prevail”, he said.
On Twitter, #SayNoToWar has been trending with over 7,000 tweets in the last hour.
Both, Indian and Pakistani citizens, are extraordinarily calling on their governments to exercise restraint and reject military options. They are also countering the glorification that normally surrounds war narratives.
Raunak Kapoor said, “Imran Khan’s words should be welcomed. Encourage dialogue, commit to deescalation. Anyone who thinks otherwise should for a moment swap places with Abhinandan & his family #SayNoToWar”
Usman Haider tweeted, “As a Pakistani, I feel bad for what the family of this well mannered officier must be going through. Boundaries aside we’re All from similar cultures. I hope he gets back to his home safely and is treated well in the meantime. #Abhinandan #SayNoToWar”.
These tweets have been retweeted hundreds of times and ‘favourited’ by thousands more.
India calls on the Geneva Conventions
The MEA has issued a statement demanding that the pilot be immediately returned to India safely.
“India also strongly objected to Pakistan’s vulgar display of an injured personnel of the Indian Air Force in violation of all norms of International Humanitarian Law and the Geneva Convention,” said the MEA.
The Geneva Conventions are a series of four international treaties that dictate an ethics code during international wars. These treaties have been signed by both, India and Pakistan.
The Conventions protect civilians and prisoners during war by ensuring they are treated fairly.
Scroll writes, that the Conventions“ provide detailed procedures for the treatment of prisoners of wars and of civilians captured by the enemy during combat. Though primarily a document used during war, the signatories are bound by the provisions in peacetime, as well.”
Article 13 of the Conventions states, “No prisoner of war may be subjected to physical mutilation or to medical or scientific experiments of any kind which are not justified by the medical, dental or hospital treatment of the prisoner concerned and carried out in his interest”.
It adds that war prisoners must always be protected against violence, intimidation, and public curiosity.
After videos and images surfaced on Twitter of the pilot bleeding and injured in a mob attack, India said that Pakistan violated the Conventions- specifically Article 13- by not protecting him.
“It was made clear that Pakistan would be well advised to ensure that no harm comes to the Indian defence personnel in its custody. India also expects his immediate and safe return.”
In a video tweeted by journalist Saman Masood, the pilot appears to be drinking a cup of tea and saying that he is being treated well by the officers of the Pakistani Army.
Although Indian officials have not commented on the contents of this video, it seems to have a setting similar to the image tweeted by Ghafoor that the MEA did respond to.
Airports closed after chopper crash
On Wednesday morning, PTI reported that the Srinagar, Jammu, Leh, Chandigarh, and Amritsar airports were shut down after an IAF chopper crashed in J&K’s Budgam district.
The Mi-17 V5 helicopter crashed around 10:10 am and caught fire amidst heavy shelling across the LoC.
Six IAF personnel and one civilian were killed. ANI released images of the crash site where police and military recovered two bodies.
An Airports Authority of India (AAI) official told PTI, “The civilian air traffic has been suspended temporarily in view of the emergency.”
Later that afternoon, NDTV reported that the shutdown order has been withdrawn.
Around 6 pm, Minister of Commerce and Industry and Civil Aviation Suresh Prabhu tweeted that he was communicating about logistics with the AAI.
He said, “Reviewed the current airspace restrictions with Member (ANS), AAI in view of the current cross border situation. I assure you that we are working out modalities so that the air passengers are least inconvenienced. All stakeholders were kept informed. @AAI_Official”
An hour ago, Indigo airlines said that it will resume flights to and from Srinagar, Jammu, Chandigarh, Amritsar and Dehradun from tomorrow.
Air India tweeted that flights from USA and Europe to Delhi are being rerouted through Ahmedabad and Mumbai. The airlines also said that flights have only been delayed, not cancelled.
Vistara also stated that as the airspace restrictions have been removed, its regular schedule will commence from tomorrow.
Joint Political Statement by 21 parties
21 opposition political parties, including the Indian National Congress, Trinamool Congress, and Communist Party of India (Marxist) prepared a joint statement on these developments.
In a press conference, Congress President Rahul Gandhi read the statement and outlined support for the Indian Air Force and Armed Forces, but “expressed their deep anguish over the blatant politicization” by the BJP.
He said that the parties are concerned about the missing pilot, as well.
The 21 leaders said they “observed that the Prime Minister has, regrettably, not convened an-all party meeting as per the established practice in our democracy.”
Moreover, the statement condemned “Pakistani misadventure” and “urged” the BJP government to “take the nation into confidence on all measures to protect India’s sovereignty, unity and integrity.”
The BJP has not commented on this statement yet.
Rhea Arora is a staff writer at Qrius.