Hours after Pakistan said that it captured two Indian Air Force (IAF) pilots today, its military went back on the claim to clarify that it has "only one" in custody. Major General Asif Ghafoor tweeted a photograph of the pilot who was shot down earlier in the day, along with a caption that read: "There is only one pilot under Pakistan Army's custody."
The statement came even as India confirmed that one of its pilots -- earlier declared "missing in action" -- has been detained in Pakistan. A video clip circulated on the social media showed a blindfolded man in uniform and surrounded by Pakistani officials.
"India... strongly objected to Pakistan's vulgar display of an injured personnel of the Indian Air Force in violation of all norms of International Humanitarian Law and the Geneva Convention. It was made clear that Pakistan would be well advised to ensure that no harm comes to the Indian defence personnel in its custody. India also expects his immediate and safe return," the External Affairs Ministry said, adding that it has lodged a strong protest with the Acting High Commissioner of Pakistan.
Fighter jets from both countries engaged in a direct battle earlier today, a day after IAF fighter jets targeted a Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) camp at Pakistan's Balakot in a 90-second operation. India said Pakistan's aggressive response was unwarranted, given that its air strike had not targeted civilians or military personnel. "In our air strike, neither were Pakistani civilians hurt nor was the Pakistani Army targeted. Our Air Force soldiers carried out the strike with caution. Despite this, Pakistan has been trying to defame India," news agency PTI quoted Home Minister Rajnath Singh as saying.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Narendra Modi came under criticism from the opposition for reportedly attending a political event at a time when the IAF pilot was in Pakistan's custody. "PM Modi must suspend his political activities until (the pilot) is returned safely. It can't be business as usual with him cross-crossing the country at taxpayer expense, making political speeches while our pilot is a Pakistani captive," tweeted National Conference leader Omar Abdullah.
Many social media users in Pakistan have appealed to their government to refrain from ill-treating the captured pilot.
The international community has urged both nuclear powers to take immediate steps aimed at de-esclating tension in the subcontinent. "We express our serious concern about the aggravation of the situation along the Line of Control between India and Pakistan and the outbreak of tensions between friendly states. We call on both sides to show restraint and step up efforts to resolve existing problems by political and diplomatic means," Russia said today, following similar appeals by China, Nepal and the United States.
The IAF strike on Balakot came over 15 days after a JeM suicide bomber drove a vehicle full of explosives into a CRPF convoy in Jammu and Kashmir's Pulwama, killing 40 soldiers.
(With inputs from Reuters)
(With inputs from Reuters)