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Indian pilot lands in Pak custody; tensions escalate

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Videos of IAF pilot show him composed and stoic

Photo/ Social Media

New Delhi, Feb 27: An IAF pilot landed in Pakistani custody Wednesday when an Indian fighter jet was shot down there as tensions between the two countries escalated further with India also claiming to have shot down a fighter plane of the neighbouring country.

Amid claims and counter-claims from two sides, the Pakistan Army retracted its earlier statement that two Indian 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. Wing Comd Abhi Nandan is being treated as per norms of military ethics," Pakistani military spokesperson Major General Asif Ghafoor said in the evening.

IAF sources identified him as Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman.

A day after India bombed “Jaish-e-Mohammed's biggest training camp in Pakistan”, it was a morning of developments moving with dizzying rapidity.

Islamabad claimed it hit back at India by bringing down two Indian military aircraft, one of which crashed in Pakistan-administered-Kashmir while the other fell in Jammu and Kashmir. Officials here said a Pakistani Air Force F-16 fighter jet was shot down by Indian air defence forces in Jammu region's Rajouri sector.

During the encounter, a MiG 21 was lost and the pilot was missing.

As tension mounted, the entire airspace north of New Delhi was briefly "vacated". Nine airports in Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh and Punjab were closed for civilian traffic for some part of the morning but opened later in the day.

Jammu and Kashmir was the centre of much of the action on a day of escalating tensions between the two neighbours.

An IAF helicopter crashed in Budgam in Kashmir, killing at least seven people. One of the deceased persons was identified as Kifayat Hussain Ganaie, a local resident, while the identity of others believed to be IAF personnel -- is being ascertained, they said.

There was no direct established link with the activity by Pakistani jets, but for many it was just a sign of the disturbed times.

There was also nightlong heavy firing and shelling on forward and civilian areas from across the LoC in Rajouri and Poonch with the Army and the Border Security Force being put on the highest degree of alertness.

All residents of the border areas were asked to remain inside their homes and not venture outside.

While the government and the defence establishment took stock of the situation, building up since the February 14 attack on a CRPF convoy in Pulwama in which 49 soldiers were killed, attention swivelled on the IAF pilot in Pakistan territory.

In a terse press statement, External Affairs Ministry spokesperson Raveesh Kumar, accompanied by Air Vice Marshal R G K Kapoor, said details are being ascertained about Pakistan's claim of having captured one Indian pilot.

It was later confirmed that he was in Pakistani custody.

Officials said Pakistani fighter jets violated Indian air space in Jammu region's Poonch and Rajouri sectors but were pushed back by Indian aircraft. The jets dropped bombs while returning but there were no immediate reports of casualties or damage, they said.

"Pakistan has responded this morning by using its Air Force to target military installations on 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 the Indian Air Force responded instantly.

"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.

"In this engagement, we have unfortunately lost one MiG 21. The pilot is missing in action. Pakistan has claimed that he is in their custody. We are ascertaining the facts," he said.

In Islamabad, the Pakistan Army released a 46-second video showing 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 the video could not be ascertained.

Till late afternoon, India's political leaders, both in government and in the opposition, were mostly quiet.

In a live television broadcast, Pakistan's leader Imran Khan also reiterated the military's claim that two Indian MIGs were shot down, as he offered to defuse tensions and resolve the issues through talks.

He said the Pakistani incursion into the Indian air space was "only intended to convey that if you can come into our country, we can do the same."

Two Indian MiGs were shot down in the ensuing action, Khan said, one day after Indian government sources said “up to 350 JeM terrorists were killed” in Tuesday's attack. There was no official confirmation of the claim.

Meanwhile, two videos released by the Pakistani Army purportedly show captured IAF Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthmaan answering questions in a composed and stoic manner.

There were other video clips on social media where he could be seen beaten by locals while lying in a stream before being taken away by soldiers.

The veracity of the videos could not be ascertained.

Later, the Pakistanis released a clip showing the blindfolded officer with blood flowing down his cheek, identifying himself as Wing Commander Abhinandan.

In the video, he refused to answer any question, except for giving his ID number, designation and marital status.

However, the video released through Twitter was withdrawn within minutes, keeping in view the Geneva Convention dictating that a prisoner of war should not be shown publicly in a humiliating manner.

Hours later, the Pakistan Army released another video, lasting 1.19 minutes, where Abhinandan can be seen drinking tea, cleaned up but with his face bruised and eyes swollen. The officer again answers questions with composure and no display of fear.

To most queries, he says he is sorry as he is not supposed to divulge any details.

"I hope you like the tea," the interrogator is heard asking. "It is fantastic," he answers.

He is also seen showering praises on Pakistan Army for treating him well and saving him from the mob and some armymen. (Agencies)

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