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Calls for restraint as India-Pakistan conflict heats up

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India and Pakistan have both said they shot down each other’s fighter jets, with Pakistan capturing an Indian pilot a day after Indian warplanes struck inside Pakistan for the first time since a 1971 war, prompting world powers to urge restraint.

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Both countries have ordered air strikes over the past two days, while ground forces have exchanged fire in more than a dozen locations.

Tension has been running high since a suicide car bombing by Pakistan-based militants in Indian-controlled Kashmir killed at least 40 Indian paramilitary police on February 14.

But the risk of conflict rose dramatically on Tuesday, when India launched an air strike on what it said was a militant training base.

A senior Indian government source said 300 militants were killed in Tuesday’s strike. Pakistan says no one was killed.

Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan called for talks with India and hoped “better sense” would prevail so that both sides could de-escalate.

“History tells us that wars are full of miscalculation. My question is that, given the weapons we have, can we afford miscalculation,” Khan said during a brief televised broadcast to the nation yesterday. “We should sit down and talk.”

The Pakistan government’s official Twitter account released a video of what it claimed was an Indian pilot who had been shot down.

The man, whom Pakistan has named as Wing Commander Abhi Nandan, whose face is bloodied and blindfolded, gives his name and service number, before telling a man questioning him: “I’m sorry, Sir, that’s all I’m supposed to tell you.”

A statement from India’s foreign ministry said the pilot’s treatment was a “vulgar display of an injured personnel of the Indian Air Force in violation of all norms of international humanitarian law and the Geneva Convention”, ordering his immediate release. India has not yet named the pilot.

In a second video circulating on social media, a screenshot of which was shared by the same Pakistan government account, the pilot was seen sipping tea while praising his treatment by the Pakistani military.

The second video’s authenticity could not be independently verified.

Pakistan and India have fought three wars since independence from British colonial rule in 1947, two over the disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir, and went to the brink a fourth in 2002 after a Pakistani militant attack on India’s parliament.

The latest escalation marks a sudden turnaround in relations between the two countries, that both claim Kashmir in full but rule in part. As recently as November, Pakistan’s Khan spoke of “mending ties” with India.

The conflict also comes at a critical time for Indian Prime Minster Narendra Modi, who faces a general election in a matter of months.

Modi was accused on Wednesday by opposition parties of capitalising on conflict.

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi criticised the “blatant politicisation of the sacrifices made by our armed forces”, in a joint statement by 21 opposition parties, the first time they have broken ranks with the government over the issue.

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 air strike.

“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 yesterday.

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

Both China and the European Union have also called for restraint.

-AAP

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