An Indian Air Force (IAF) officer was captured on Wednesday by Pakistan, which paraded him as a virtual prisoner of war, robbing some of the sheen of a spectacular aerial strike on the Jaish-e-Mohammad’s biggest training camp deep inside the neighbouring country a day earlier.
Pakistan had made light of the IAF action on Tuesday, but retaliated on Wednesday — first by unremitting gunfire across the Line of Control (LoC) in Jammu and Kashmir and then sending fighter jets into Indian territory, targeting military installations. However, “in that aerial engagement, one Pakistan Air Force fighter aircraft was shot down by a MiG 21 Bison of the Indian Air Force. The Pakistani aircraft was seen by ground forces falling from the sky on the Pakistan side”, Raveesh Kumar, spokesman for the government, said in a statement.
“We have unfortunately lost one MiG 21. The pilot is missing in action. Pakistan has claimed he is in its custody. We are ascertaining the facts,” he added.
Pakistan had already released a video clip of the IAF officer, Wing Commander Abhi Nandan, by then, showing him blindfolded, covered in blood, and hands tied behind his back. He is heard telling the Pak authorities his name and service number.
The confirmation of the capture came as Prime Minister Narendra Modi was addressing a youth parliament at Vigyan Bhavan in New Delhi. He was handed a square of white paper, after which he broke off midway through his speech, walked up to Minister for Youth Affairs Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore, said something to him and left the venue.
A few hours later, Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan addressed the nation on television and said India had violated Pakistan’s sovereignty by entering its airspace.
“The sole purpose of our action [on Wednesday] was to convey that if you can come into our country, we can do the same,” Khan said, spelling out the bottom line: India and Pakistan must talk and the talks must encompass everything, including terrorism.
This is a dilemma for India, which has consistently said that talks and terror cannot go together. But the two countries, having taken tit-for-tat action to guard sovereignty and national interest, have not escalated their military stance, suggesting that the danger of tension spiralling into war, is contained for the moment.
Khan said better sense must prevail and the two sides should act with wisdom. He said Pakistan offered India its cooperation in the investigation after the Pulwama terror attack. “We know how the families of those killed in the Pulwama incident must have felt. We have been the victims of war for decades...Since the beginning we have asked India to share actionable evidence with us. It is nowhere in the interest of Pakistan for it to be used as a base for militancy,” he said.
India’s response to Pakistan’s suggestion of talks was to summon Pakistan Acting High Commissioner and register protest against its attempt to attack military installations. The government said it expected the “immediate and safe return” of the IAF pilot. In a demarche handed over to the Pakistani envoy, India said it “strongly objects 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,” a government statement said.
Finance Minister Arun Jaitley gave vent to the government’s thinking when he said: “The kind of things we see.... I remember when the US Navy SEAL had taken Osama bin Laden from Abottabad, can't we do the same?...We could earlier only imagine, desire and get frustrated and disappointed (for failing to conduct such operations). But today, it is possible,” he said. BJP sources said the party had suggested to the government that covert operations be launched to “take out” Lashkar-e-Taiyaba chief Hafiz Saeed.
Opposition parties, which met in the capital, have begun piling the pressure on the government. While lauding the IAF for its action, the Opposition criticised leaders of the ruling party for politicising the “sacrifices of the Armed Forces” — a veiled reference to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s remarks about the Congress’s family rule at the inauguration of the National War Memorial. The Opposition said the government had failed to take them into confidence about the military operations — a convention in such circumstances — although Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj had held consultations with them after the IAF operations. A statement “urged the government to take the nation into confidence on all measures to protect India’s sovereignty, unity and integrity,” adding that the Opposition “will stand with the country and against the enemy at this moment”.
Jaitley, however, appealed to opposition parties to introspect their statement, saying it was being used by Pakistan to bolster their case.