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27 Feb, 2019 10:23

India v Pakistan: What you need to know about Kashmir flare-up that may push nuclear rivals to war

India v Pakistan: What you need to know about Kashmir flare-up that may push nuclear rivals to war

Tension is escalating rapidly between nuclear-armed neighbors India and Pakistan after air combat between the rivals ended with the reported loss of aircraft by both nations.

The ongoing flare-up started on February 14 with the suicide bombing of Indian police troops in Kashmir, a divided region in the north that has been contested by Islamabad and New Delhi since 1947.

Some 40 people were reportedly killed in the attack. The militant group Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM), that wants all of Kashmir to become part of Pakistan, claimed credit for the attack, which was the deadliest in decades.

Indian air raid

Early on Tuesday morning, the Indian military aircraft crossed into Pakistani airspace for a raid against what India called a JeM training camp. Indian Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale said "a very large number" of JeM fighters were killed in the raid, which targeted an area near the town of Balakot in the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province of Pakistan.


"The existence of such training facilities, capable of training hundreds of jihadis, could not have functioned without the knowledge of the Pakistani authorities," Gokhale said. Indian media claimed as many as 300 militants had been killed.

The town is located some 50km (32 miles) from the UN-mandated Line of Control (LoC) in Kashmir, which serves as the de facto border in the disputed region. India hasn't launched incursions that deep into Pakistani territory since the war of 1971, the bloodiest conflict fought by the two nations.

Pakistan pledges retaliation

Pakistan, which denies harboring jihadists, rejected India's justification for the attack, which was that Islamabad refused to deal with JeM insurgency on its own.

Pakistani military denied Indian claims of mass casualties on the ground, saying Indian jets dropped their munitions in a desolated area while being chased away by Pakistani warplanes. Neither side's version of events could be corroborated independently.

Islamabad condemned the incursion into its airspace and said it reserved the right to retaliate against India at a time and place of its choosing.

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On Tuesday evening, there were reports by Indian officials of heavy artillery shelling coming from the Pakistani side injuring several Indian troops in Kashmir.

Islamabad strikes back

The promised retaliation materialized on Wednesday and has brought with it as much confusion over what exactly happened as events on Tuesday. Pakistan stated that its aircraft attacked targets across the LoC, but stayed in Pakistani airspace.

Pakistan has "taken strikes at non military target, avoiding human loss and collateral damage," the country's Foreign Ministry said in a statement. "Sole purpose being to demonstrate our right, will and capability for self defense."

Then, according to the Pakistani side, the Indian Air Force launched its aircraft into Pakistan's airspace. In the ensuing fight, two Indian aircraft were shot down, and two pilots captured.

India says both nations lost aircraft on Wednesday

The Indian government took a pause before commenting on the developments on Wednesday. An Indian official based in Kashmir told Reuters that at least three Pakistani aircraft violated the border and were confronted by Indian fighter jets deployed to intercept them.

There were also claims in the Indian media that a Pakistani F-16 fighter jet was shot down and crashed in the Rajouri district of Kashmir – presumably by the Indian Air Force responding to an incursion.

Hours later, the Indian Foreign Ministry confirmed that the air force lost one of its MiG-21s during an engagement with Pakistani forces. Its pilot is listed as missing in action, Raveesh Kumar, the spokesman for the ministry, said.

He added that one Pakistani fighter jet was shot down by the Indian side, falling on the Pakistani side of the border. He stressed that the Pakistani aircraft were targeting Indian military installations on the ground.

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At least one other Indian aircraft crashed on Wednesday in Budgam, a district in the India-controlled part of Kashmir. However it was not a fighter jet but rather a Mi-17 helicopter, which reportedly went down due to a malfunction while returning to base. The Pakistani military said it did not engage that aircraft. The helicopter was earlier misidentified as a MiG-21 fighter jet in some media reports.

Security concerns

Amid the flare-up, air traffic was shut down on both sides of the LoC. Airports in the cities of Amritsar, Pathankot, Jammu, Leh and Chandigarh have been shut down and all flights canceled on the Indian side. Pakistan closed its entire airspace to flights amid the tension.

The move is a clear indicator that both countries fear further escalation of hostilities after two days of exchanges of fire. Both governments publicly stated they want to defuse the tensions though.

Several nations, including the US, China and Russia, as well as the European Union issued calls for restraint addressed to Islamabad and New Delhi.

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