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Pakistan’s PM Imran Khan warns of nuclear war with India, after both sides shoot down warplanes and Kashmir crisis escalates

Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan called for talks with India and warned of miscalculations that could lead to nuclear war in a national television address on Wednesday, hours after his nation’s air force claimed to have shot down two Indian warplanes and captured a pilot.

The warning and overture came amid flaring tensions between the nuclear-armed nations that started Tuesday when the Indian Air Force made what is believed to be its first incursion over Pakistani territory in decades to bomb a militant training camp. India said the camp belonged to a terrorist group responsible for killing 40 Indian paramilitary troops in the disputed Kashmir region two weeks ago.

After promising to retaliate for the incursion, Pakistan said it downed two Indian military planes that crossed the so-called Line of Control, the de facto border in Kashmir, into Pakistani airspace Wednesday.

One of the aircraft fell into Indian-controlled territory while the other crashed onto the Pakistani side, where the pilot was captured. Purported video of the airman – bloodied, blindfolded and with his hands tied behind his back – has been shared online. Pakistan identified him as Wing Commander Abhinandan.

“We waited and today we took action,” Khan said in a short address. “It was our plan to not cause any collateral damage and not to cause any casualties. We simply wanted to show our capability.”

India disputed Pakistan’s account of the confrontation. Indian Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale said that Pakistan instigated the clash when its air force attacked Indian military installations. He said the strike was foiled and a Pakistani military plane was shot down over its own territory. Gokhale said India lost one warplane in the exchange and declared the pilot missing in action.

“Pakistan has claimed that he is in their custody,” Gokhale said at a news conference. “We are ascertaining the facts.”

In a separate account, prominent Indian defence analyst Ajai Shukla said in a tweet that two Indian air force jets were shot down by ground fire after they were lured toward the air defences by Pakistani planes returning home from a bombing run.

India’s foreign ministry released a statement after Khan’s speech describing Pakistan’s attacks Wednesday as an “unprovoked act of aggression”. The ministry also objected to the way images of the captured pilot were being disseminated.

“India reserves the right to take firm and decisive action to protect its national security, sovereignty and territorial integrity against any act of aggression or cross-border terrorism,” the statement said.

The ministry made no mention of earlier remarks by Khan, who implored India to help deescalate the situation between the historical enemies.

“I ask India: With the weapons you have and the weapons we have, can we really afford a miscalculation?” he said. “If this escalates, it will no longer be in my control or” that of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Khan closed his speech by saying, “Let’s sit together and settle this with talks.”

Accepting the overture will be anything but easy for Modi, who is banking on support from Hindu nationalists in general elections this spring.

The air strike Tuesday was seen as a move to answer growing calls at home to punish Pakistan for not doing enough to stop Jaish-e-Muhammad – the terrorist group responsible for killing 40 Indian security personnel on February 14 in a suicide attack in Pulwama, a district in Kashmir.

Khan said in his speech that Pakistan had asked India for “actionable evidence” about the terrorist group and said it wasn’t in his country’s interest to harbour militants.

That contradicted what Gokhale said Tuesday about India repeatedly providing Pakistan with information about the location of Jaish-e-Muhammad’s camp, adding that Pakistani officials continued to deny its existence.

“The existence of such massive training facilities capable of training hundreds of jihadis could not have functioned without the knowledge of Pakistan authorities,” Gokhale said.

Pakistan state media on Wednesday released a video purportedly showing a captured Indian fighter pilot being interrogated after his jet was shot down when it entered Pakistani airspace in Kashmir.

Two Pakistani security sources told Agence France-Presse that the video was authentic, although the military had not yet officially confirmed it.

The video shows a blindfolded man in an Indian Air Force uniform, his face bloodied, with his hands tied behind him, as a soldier interrogates him.

He gives his name, rank and serial number and, when pressed for further information, says: “I am not supposed to tell you that.”

In a photograph, which has also been confirmed by security sources, the pilot can be seen flanked by Pakistani military personnel.

The confrontation represents the first major foreign policy crisis for Pakistani Prime Minister Khan, who is believed to be close to the powerful military and who came to power last year vowing to seek dialogue with New Delhi.

While India has consistently accused its neighbour of supporting extremist groups, Pakistan has vehemently denied any role in attacks in India and its only Muslim-majority state, Kashmir.

On the sidelines of trilateral talks with Russia on Wednesday, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi met his Indian counterpart Sushma Swaraj and expressed concern over the escalating conflict.

Other global powers, including the United States and European Union, have also called for calm, while Malaysia issued a travel advisory for its citizens to avoid non-essential travel to the affected areas.


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