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International relations

Pakistan and India both claim to down each other's jets

Khan warns of ‘miscalculation’ triggering nuclear war

An Indian army solider walks past the wreckage of an Indian aircraft in Indian Kashmir on Feb. 27.   © AP

ISLAMABAD/NEW DELHI -- India and Pakistan both announced that they had shot down each other's fighter jets on Wednesday as tensions mounted between South Asia's nuclear-armed neighbors.

The Pakistan Air Force said they had shot down two Indian fighter jets over Kashmir. Pakistani officials said two Indian Air Force pilots were captured by Pakistani forces.

Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan later called for talks, saying that "History tells us that wars are full of miscalculation. My question is that, given the weapons we have, can we afford miscalculation?" during a brief televised broadcast to the nation.

The Indian Foreign Ministry also said that Indian troops had observed a Pakistani fighter jet falling, which the Pakistani side has denied.

This latest skirmish follows an attack on Tuesday by Indian fighters of an alleged terrorist training camp at Balakot, in northern Pakistan. The Pakistani government says the Indian airstrike hit a tree line on a hillside, leaving craters and destroying trees.

Indian officials say the camp it targeted belongs to the Jaish e Mohammad, or JeM, militant group.

The military altercations were triggered by a suicide attack in Indian Kashmir on Feb. 14 that killed at least 40 Indian paramilitary soldiers. The Indian government says the attack was carried out by JeM, which is based in Pakistan.

"The PAF shot down two Indian aircrafts inside Pakistani airspace. One of the aircraft fell inside AJ&K while the other fell inside IOK," tweeted Major Gen. Asif Ghafoor, the chief spokesman of Pakistan's armed forces, after Wednesday's attack.

AJ&K stands for Azad Jammu and Kashmir, a reference to Pakistan-administered Kashmir. IOK is an acronym for Indian Occupied Kashmir, which is how Pakistan refers to India administered Kashmir.

According to Gen. Ghafoor, Pakistani fighters attacked six targets in Indian Kashmir that he described as "supply depots" and "administrative offices." He said there were no casualties.

Raveesh Kumar, the spokesperson for India's Ministry of External Affairs, later read a statement confirming that Pakistan had responded to India's attack.

"Due to our high state of readiness and alertness, Pakistan's attempts were foiled successfully," Kumar said during the briefing. "In that aerial engagement, one Pakistan Air Force fighter aircraft was shot down by a MiG 21 Bison of the Indian Air Force."

He added India has lost one MiG 21 and that its pilot is missing in action. "Pakistan has claimed that he is in their custody," Kumar said. "We are ascertaining the facts."

Airports in northern India were closed to civilian air traffic amid shelling along the border by both countries' armies. But the restrictions were later lifted.

Wednesday's military action came after overnight phone calls between U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi as well as Pompeo and Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj.

A statement released by the U.S. State Department on Pompeo's behalf says: "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 prioritize direct communication and avoid further military activity."

The PAF attack also came ahead of a meeting of the National Command Authority, or NCA, the top nuclear decision-making body, chaired by the prime minister.

Western diplomats are warning that the escalating attacks could spiral in to a wider conflict. "A rapid escalation between India and Pakistan will be extremely dangerous," one Western diplomat in Islamabad told the Nikkei Asian Review. "Maybe it's time for big global powers to begin talking to both parties and bring some restraint."

JeM has claimed responsibility for the suicide bombing in Indian Kashmir that killed 40 paramilitary police two weeks ago.

India carried out a "pre-emptive" attack on "the biggest training camp of JeM in Balakot," in Pakistan, Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale said in a statement. "A very large number of JeM terrorists, trainers, senior commanders and groups of jihadis who were being trained for fedayeen [suicide] action were eliminated."

Hindu-majority India and Islamic Pakistan were created when British rule ended in 1947.

The partitioning process was bloody, and the two countries have since fought three major wars, including two over Kashmir, as well as many skirmishes. The third war, in 1971, was over East Pakistan, which seceded to become Bangladesh with Indian assistance.

Kashmir remains the core flash point in bilateral ties, with India routinely accusing Pakistan of sheltering militants who cross into the Indian-administered area of the region to carry out attacks. Islamabad denies this.

After the suicide attack, India vowed to take all possible diplomatic steps to isolate Pakistan from the international community, including the removal of trade privileges it had extended to its neighbor.

Yuji Kuronuma in New Delhi contributed to this report.

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