Imran Khan calls for talks as tensions heighten between India and Pakistan

 

February 27, 2019

 

  • Imran Khan calls on India to hold talks to avert devastating war
  • Indian aircraft crash killed two pilots and a civilian


Indian army soldiers arrive near the wreckage of an Indian aircraft after it crashed in Budgam area, outskirts of Srinagar, Indian controlled Kashmir, Wednesday, Feb.27, 2019. (AP/Mukhtar Khan)

 

By Agencies: REUTERS, AFP, AP

 

Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan called for talks with India Wednesday after both sides said they had shot down each other’s warplanes, a dramatic escalation of the confrontation between the nuclear-armed rivals.
“I once again invite India to come to the negotiating table,” Khan, who has called for dialogue with New Delhi in the past, said in a televised statement.

“Better sense should prevail,” he added, before alluding to the nuclear arsenal of both South Asian countries and asking: “If escalation begins from here, where will it go?”

Earlier in the day a military spokesman confirmed that the Pakistan air force had shot down two Indian warplanes after they crossed over the Kashmir border, capturing one pilot, a military spokesman confirmed on Wednesday.

Major General Asif Ghafoor said Pakistani troops on ground captured the Indian pilot.

He said one of the planes crashed in Pakistan’s part of Kashmir, while the other went down in the Indian territory.

He said “one Indian pilot was arrested by troops on ground while two are in the area” on Wednesday.

But Indian air force spokesman Anupam Banerjee in New Delhi said he had no information on Pakistan’s statement.

The capture followed an earlier report of an Indian Air Force plane which crashed in the disputed area on Wednesday, killing two pilots and a civilian, a police official said, amid heightened tensions with neighboring Pakistan.

Further details about the incident were not immediately available.

Elsewhere Pakistani fighter jets violated airspace over Indian Kashmir on Wednesday but were forced back over the de facto border of the disputed territory, sources and local media said.

On the ground troops from both countries exchanged fire along their contested border.

India on Tuesday said it had launched an air strike inside Pakistan and that its warplanes killed “a very large number” of fighters at a militant training camp, raising the risk of conflict between the nuclear-armed neighbors. Pakistan denied there had been casualties, but has warned that it will respond to Indian aggression.

Tensions have been elevated since a suicide car bombing by Pakistan-based militants in Indian-controlled Kashmir killed at least 40 Indian paramilitary police on Feb. 14, but the risk of conflict rose dramatically after India’s air strike on Tuesday.

The attack targeted the Jaish-e-Mohammed militant, the group that claimed credit for the suicide attack. But while India said a large number of Jem fighters had been killed, Pakistani officials said the Indian airstrike was a failure and inflicted no casualties.

On Tuesday, evening Pakistan began shelling using heavy caliber weapons in 12 to 15 places along the de facto border in Kashmir, known as the Line of Control (LoC), a spokesman for the Indian defense forces said on Wednesday.

“The Indian Army retaliated for effect and our focused fire resulted in severe destruction to five posts and number of casualties,” the spokesman said.

Five Indian soldiers suffered minor wounds in the shelling that ended on Wednesday morning, he added.

“So far there are no (civilian) casualties but there is panic among people,” said Rahul Yadav, the deputy commissioner of the Poonch district where some of the shelling took place.

“We have an evacuation plan in place and if need arises we will evacuate people to safer areas,” he said.

Local officials on the Pakistani side said at least four people had been killed and seven wounded, though it was unclear if the casualties were civilian or military.

India has also continued its crackdown on suspected militants operating in Kashmir, a mountainous region that both countries claim in full but rule in part.

On Wednesday, security forces killed two Jaish militants in a gun battle, Indian police said.

Pakistan earlier promised to retaliate to Tuesday’s air strikes, and security across India has been tightened.

The two countries have fought three wars since independence from British colonial rule in 1947 and went to the brink a fourth in 2002 after a Pakistani militant attack on India’s parliament.

In Punjab, an Indian state that borders Pakistan, security alerts are in place in several districts, according to media reports.

Schools within five kilometers of LoC were closed in one district in Kashmir.

In Mumbai, India’s financial capital, there was a visible increase in security levels for a city that has suffered numerous militant attacks in the past.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo spoke separately with the foreign ministers of India and Pakistan and urged them to avoid “further military activity” following Tuesday’s airstrike.

“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.

“I also encouraged both ministers to prioritize direct communication and avoid further military activity,” he said.

Both China and the European Union have also called for restraint. On Wednesday New Zealand’s foreign minister Winston Peters also voiced concern over the escalation in tensions.

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