The government of India said on Wednesday that an Indian airforce pilot was in Pakistani custody and a Pakistani fighter jet was shot down,even as fears of war darkened the India-Pakistan relations with Islamabadlaunching retaliatory strikes and claiming it has arrested an Indian pilot inits territory.
Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan tried to defuse thetension by saying war is futile and can lead to unknown consequences whilemaking an oblique reference to the nuclear weapons that both countries possess.
The Pakistan army retracted its earlier statement that twoIndian Air Force pilots were arrested and in the evening said it had "only one"pilot in its custody.
"There is only one pilot under Pakistan army's custody. WingComd Abhi Nandan is being treated as per norms of military ethics," Pakistanimilitary spokesperson major general Asif Ghafoor said in the evening.
IAF sources identified him as wing commander AbhinandanVarthaman.
A day after India bombed Jaish-e-Mohammed's biggest trainingcamp in Pakistan, it was a morning of developments moving with dizzyingrapidity.
Islamabad claimed it hit back at India by bringing down twoIndian military aircraft, one of which crashed in Pakistan-administered Kashmirwhile the other fell in Jammu and Kashmir. Officials here said a Pakistani AirForce F-16 fighter jet was shot down by Indian air defence forces in Jammuregion's Rajouri sector.
During the encounter, a MiG 21 was lost and the pilot wasmissing.
As tension mounted, the entire airspace north of New Delhiwas briefly "vacated". Nine airports in Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh andPunjab were closed for civilian traffic for some part of the morning but openedlater in the day.
Jammu and Kashmir was the centre of much of the action on aday of escalating tensions between the two neighbours.
There was also nightlong heavy firing and shelling onforward and civilian areas from across the LoC in Rajouri and Poonch with thearmy and the Border Security Force being put on the highest degree ofalertness.
All residents of the border areas were asked to remaininside their homes and not venture outside.
While the government and the defence establishment tookstock of the situation, building up since the February 14 attack on a CRPFconvoy in Pulwama in which 40 personnel were killed, attention swivelled on theIAF pilot in enemy territory.
In a terse press statement, external affairs ministrySpokesperson Raveesh Kumar, accompanied by air vice marshal R G K Kapoor, saiddetails are being ascertained about Pakistan's claim of having captured oneIndian pilot.
It was later confirmed that he was in Pakistani custody.
Officials said Pakistani fighter jets violated Indian airspace in Jammu region's Poonch and Rajouri sectors but were pushed back byIndian aircraft. The jets dropped bombs while returning but there were noimmediate reports of casualties or damage, they said.
"Pakistan hasresponded this morning by using its air force to target military installationson the Indian side. Due to our high state of readiness and alertness,Pakistan's attempts were foiled successfully," Kumar said.
He said the Pakistan air force activity was detected and theIndian air force responded instantly.
"In that aerial engagement, one Pakistan air force fighteraircraft was shot down by a MiG 21 Bison of the Indian air force. The Pakistaniaircraft was seen by ground forces falling from the sky on the Pakistan side.In this engagement, we have unfortunately lost one MiG 21. The pilot is missingin action. Pakistan has claimed that he is in their custody. We areascertaining the facts," he said.
In Islamabad, the Pakistan army released a 46-second videoshowing a blindfolded man claiming he is Abhinandan.
"I am an IAF officer.My service No is 27981," the man is seen as saying in the video.
The veracity of thevideo could not be ascertained.
Till late afternoon, India's political leaders, both ingovernment and in the opposition, were mostly quiet.
In a live television broadcast, Pakistan's leader Imran Khanalso reiterated the military's claim that two Indian MIGs were shot down, as heoffered to defuse tensions and resolve the issues through talks.
He said the Pakistani incursion into the Indian air spacewas "only intended to convey that if you can come into our country, we can dothe same."
Two Indian MiGs were shot down in the ensuing action, Khansaid, one day after Indian government sources said up to 350 JeM militants werekilled in Tuesday's attack. There was no official confirmation of the claim.
Meanwhile, Union minister Arun Jaitley Wednesday suggestedthat India is capable of carrying out an operation similar to the 2011 USaction in Pakistan to eliminate Al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden.
His remarks at an event related to the campaign to cleanriver Ganga came a day after the Indian air force pounded the main camp ofJaish-e-Mohammed outfit in Balakot across the Line of Control.
Referring to the US operation in Abbotabad, Jaitley said,"It is said that a week is too long a time in politics. In our country the waypeople get enthusiastic, if you look at the last 24 hours, one week wouldappear to be a day. The kind of things we see…I remember when the US NavySEAL had taken Osama bin Laden from Abottabad, can't we do the same?"
"We could earlieronly imagine, desire and get frustrated and disappointed (for failing toconduct such operations). But today, it is possible," he said at the eventdedicated to generate funds to clean river Ganga.
The event was organised by the Ministry of Water Resourcesand Ganga Rejuvenation at DRDO. Jaitley contributed Rs one lakh in his personalcapacity for the programme to clean the river.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Narendra Modi was Wednesdaybriefed about the latest security situation following alleged violation ofIndian airspace by Pakistani fighter jets in Jammu and Kashmir, sources said.
Top security and intelligence officials were in a huddleearlier in the day at the prime minister's office in the wake of freshdevelopments that followed India's airstrike at a Jaish-e-Mohammed trainingcamp across the LoC on Tuesday.
National security advisor Ajit Doval, senior officials ofthe Indian Navy, Army and the Air Force and other security officials had met todiscuss the current security situation, they said.
Meanwhile, India on Wednesday demanded immediate and safereturn of its IAF pilot Abhinandan, captured by Pakistan after an aerialconfrontation, and strongly objected to the neighbouring country's "vulgardisplay" of an injured defence personnel in violation of international norms.
Summoning Pakistan's acting high commissioner Syed HaiderShah to lodge a strong protest at "the unprovoked act of aggression" byPakistan including targeting of military posts, the external affairs ministrysaid the envoy was clearly told that India reserves the right to take "firm anddecisive action to protect its national security".
India also made it clear to Pakistan that no harm should becaused to the Indian defence personnel, the EAM said.
In its sharp-worded statement, the MEA said India hasstrongly objected to Pakistan's "vulgar display" of an injured personnel of theIndian Air Force in violation of all norms of International Humanitarian Lawand the Geneva Convention.
"It was made clear that Pakistan would be well advised toensure that no harm comes to the Indian defence personnel in its custody. India also expects his immediate and safereturn," the MEA said.
The MEA lodged a strong protest at the "unprovoked act ofaggression by Pakistan against India, including by violation of the Indian airspace and targeting of Indian military posts".
"It is unfortunate that instead of fulfilling itsinternational obligation and bilateral commitment to take credible actionagainst terrorist entities and individuals operating from its soil, Pakistanhas acted with aggression against India," the MEA added.
"It was clearly conveyed that India reserves the right totake firm and decisive action to protect its national security, sovereignty andterritorial integrity against any act of aggression or cross-border terrorism,"said the MEA.
It said regret was expressed at continuing denial byPakistan's political and military leadership "at the presence of terroristinfrastructure in territories under its control".
"A dossier was handed over to Pakistan side with specificdetails of JeM complicity in Pulwama attack and the presence of JeM camps andits leadership in Pakistan," the MEA said.
"It was conveyed thatIndia expects Pakistan to take immediate and verifiable action againstterrorism emanating from territories under its control," it said.