Asia-Pacific

Australia urges 'restraint', as India, Pakistan row escalates

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Tensions have dramatically escalated between the nuclear-armed rivals since Indian warplanes flew into Pakistani airspace and struck a so-called "terror camp" on Tuesday.

Australia has urged Pakistan and India to avoid further military action as the conflict in Kashmir between the two nuclear-armed neighbours heats up.

Foreign Minister Marise Payne said she was very concerned by the reports of the escalation in the conflict, with both countries launching air strikes in the past two days.

Troops on the ground have also exchanged fire at numerous locations in the disputed territory claimed by both sides.

"If those reports are correct, we would certainly urge both sides to exercise restraint. To avoid further military action, this is a dangerous cycle of escalation," Senator Payne said.

"I would encourage direct dialogue between both countries to endeavour to resolve these matters in a peaceful way."

Senator Payne said "the cycle of escalation ... is very dangerous for all concerned".

The Department of Foreign Affairs is monitoring the situation in the two countries but no travel advice has been issued for Australians as yet.

Senator Payne was in London for a meeting with her counterpart, Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, to discuss a post-Brexit free trade deal between the two countries and the shared efforts to promote the international rules based order. 

An Indian foreign ministry spokesman said its country's forces shot down a Pakistani fighter jet, adding that one of its own warplanes was also shot down in air battles on Wednesday, and the pilot of the missing Indian plane was missing in action.

"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," Minister of External Affairs spokesman Ravish Kumar said.

It comes hours after a Pakistani spokesperson said its nation's armed forces shot down two Indian warplanes in its airspace over disputed Kashmir.

The dramatic escalation has ignited fears of an all-out conflict between the nuclear-armed neighbours.

Pakistani military spokesperson Major General Asif Ghafoor said two Indian pilots had been captured, and one aircraft had fallen in Pakistani-administered Kashmir, while the other fell on the Indian side of the heavily militarised Line of Control dividing the Himalayan territory.

"PAF shot down two Indian aircrafts inside Pakistani airspace," tweeted Major General Asif Ghafoor.

Local reports said one aircraft came down in Garend Kalan village, 7km from Budgam in central Kashmir. 

In a press conference after the strikes, General Ghafoor displayed photos of what he said were "captured Indian weapons" and "documents".

"Both countries have the capability and capacity, but war is actually the failure of policy, which India needs to understand," he said. 

"We still do not want to escalate, we want to follow a path that leads to peace."

Pakistan's Prime Minister Imran Khan called for talks with India, urging them to "come to the negotiating table". 

"Better sense should prevail," he added, before alluding to the nuclear arsenal of both South Asian countries.

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"If we let the conflict between the two nations escalate from this point, we don't know where it would go. It would neither remain in my control nor in Narendra Modi's."

In a dramatic day of conflict between the neighbours, Indian sources said Pakistani fighter jets had violated airspace over Indian-administered Kashmir, but were forced back over the Line of Control in the disputed territory.

A top government official in Indian-administered Kashmir said the Pakistani jets briefly crossed the frontier but were pushed back by the Indian Air Force.

The Press Trust of India (PTI) reported that Pakistani fighter planes crossed at Poonch and Nowshera, two locations on the Indian side of the de facto border, but were repelled.

Indian jets conducted an air strike on "terror camps" according to a minister. Pakistan has played down the incident.
Indian jets conducted an air strike on "terror camps" according to a minister. Pakistan has played down the incident.
Getty Images

PTI said the Pakistani jets dropped bombs while returning but that there were no immediate reports of casualties or damage.

The Pakistani foreign office also released a statement saying that the air force "undertook strikes" across the border, known as the Line of Control, on Wednesday - however it did not elaborate on what it meant by "strikes" and did not mention shooting down planes.

It said the strikes were aimed at a "non-military target", adding: "We have no intention of escalation".

"Sole purpose being to demonstrate our right, will and capability for self-defence," the statement read. "That is why we undertook the action with clear warning and in broad daylight." 

Kashmir
A map of the Kashmir region.
SBS News

Pakistan has reportedly shut down its main airports in Islamabad, Lahore and Multan, shortly after India suspended commercial flights over Kashmir and several north Indian cities. 

The incursion over the heavily militarised Line of Control comes a day after Indian warplanes carried out a strike in Pakistan on what New Delhi said was a militant training camp, in retaliation for a February 14 suicide bombing in Kashmir that killed 40 Indian troops.

On Tuesday, Pakistan began shelling using heavy calibre weapons in 12 to 15 places along the Line of Control, a spokesman for the Indian defence forces said on Wednesday.

"The Indian Army retaliated for effect and our focused fire resulted in severe destruction to five posts and number of casualties," the spokesman said.

Five Indian soldiers suffered minor wounds in the shelling that ended on Wednesday morning, he added.

"So far there are no [civilian] casualties but there is panic among people," said Rahul Yadav, the deputy commissioner of the Poonch district where some of the shelling took place.

"We have an evacuation plan in place and if the need arises we will evacuate people to safer areas," he said.

Local officials on the Pakistani side said at least four people had been killed and seven wounded, though it was unclear if the casualties were civilian or military.

Tensions have dramatically escalated between the nuclear-armed rivals since Indian warplanes struck what New Delhi said was a camp of Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM), the group that claimed the Kashmir bombing.

Islamabad, while denying the Indian strike caused any major damage or casualties, had vowed to retaliate, fuelling fears of a dangerous confrontation in South Asia.

On Wednesday, Indian external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj defended the attack on JeM training camps.

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"During the attack, great care was taken to ensure the general public was not harmed. This was a non-military operation, and the aim was to strike at JeM's terrorist capabilities, which we did successfully," she said. 

"Terrorism is a threat to humanity. So the resolve of just these three countries cannot fight it. We need international resolve. We need global cooperation."

Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan said on Wednesday night that his country had nothing to do with the February 14 attack.

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