If India’s air strikes inside Pakistan dominated the headlines on Tuesday, Wednesday was all about conflicting reports about Pakistan strikes in India.
By the evening, this much was clear: One Indian pilot was in Pakistan custody after his MiG 21 crashed on the Pakistan side. India also shot down one Pakistan fighter jet that had attempted to target “military installations on India’s side” in Jammu and Kashmir.
After a day of claims and counter claims by both India and Pakistan that saw international air travel being affected after both countries closed their air space for a few hours, the debate among commentators and defence analysts was how both countries could proceed.
Where do we go from here?
Foreign policy and security expert Srinath Raghavan called for a return to diplomacy.
Swarajya Editorial Director R Jagganathan disagreed.
Raghavan pointed out that diplomacy is not “backing down”.
Pakistani journalist and political commentator Najam Sethi criticised the bad precedent India had set by striking across the international border.
Retired Lieutenant General HS Panag advocated a hard-nosed pragmatism, saying setbacks were to be expected, but India would prevail in the long run.
Wednesday’s developments are being seen as an escalation by defence and security commentators, with one saying it is not yet over.
Elections and escalation
On speculation about the role of the upcoming Lok Sabha polls, foreign policy expert Tanvi Madan pointed out that elections could actually also help keep escalation in check.
Reuters journalist Gerry Doyle said India and Pakistan could still step back.
One observer criticised India for using military operations for political gains, saying publicising such attacks leads to higher expectations, which has led to the current situation.
Questions over Tuesday’s IAF strikes
The day also saw questions being raised over the evidence emanating from the reports that came in from the site of the Indian Air Force bombings in the Pakistan village of Jaba.
Others pointed to Pakistan dominating the propaganda war.
Confusion earlier in the day
There was some confusion earlier in the day about claims of airstrikes by Pakistan, and that it had two Indian pilots in its custody.
Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson Raveesh Kumar confirmed in the press conference that the pilot went missing after India shot down a Pakistani aircraft that had attempted to target “military installations on India’s side” in Jammu and Kashmir.
“In this engagement, we have lost one MiG 21,” said Kumar, adding that the pilot was “missing in action”. “Pakistan claims he is in their custody,” Kumar said. “We are ascertaining the facts.”
There was some criticism that the spokesperson did not take questions.
Pakistan later confirmed its Army had only one Indian pilot in its custody.
Pilot in captivity
The missing pilot was identified on social media as Wing Commander Abhinandan. A few videos, believed to be that of the pilot, were being circulated on Twitter.
In a separate incident, an Indian helicopter crashed in Jammu and Kashmir’s Budgam district. According to an Indian Air Force statement, six Indian Air Force officials and a civilian were killed in the crash.
On Tuesday, Indian fighter planes had crossed over into Pakistani airspace to strike a Jaish-e-Mohammad training camp. The terrorist organisation had taken responsibility for the February 14 Pulwama suicide bombing in which 40 Central Reserve Police Force personnel were killed.
Following this strike, Pakistan made a not-so-veiled nuclear threat at a press conference on Tuesday, referring to its National Command Authority or NCA, which controls its nuclear weapons.
The allusion to nuclear weapons in the press conference dominated Pakistan newspaper front pages on Wednesday. But many people seemed oblivious to the dangers, prompting some to point out the seriousness of the situation.
Imran Khan holds press conference
Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan addressed the nation in the afternoon.
In his five-minute statement, Imran Khan said Pakistan’s action was “only intended to convey that if you can come into our country, we can do the same”. “From here, it is imperative that we use our heads and act with wisdom,” Khan said, according to Dawn.
Some pointed to what Imran Khan could do to ease tensions.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s silence on both Tuesday’s and Wednesday’s events too received a fair share of commentary. He should address the issue, suggested Jagannathan.