India and Pakistan continued to escalate a military crisis that began earlier this month, with aircraft on both sides reportedly shot down. In addition, the armies of both countries are reportedly trading artillery barrages on the ground. The situation between the two countries is made worse by the fact both maintain stockpiles of nuclear weapons.
The situation started on February 14th when a convoy of Indian paramilitary police forces in was , killing 46 troops. India has accused Pakistan of harboring the terrorist group believed responsible for the attacks, (JeM), allowing the group to operate out of Pakistani territory.
On Monday, February 25th India retaliated. Twelve Mirage 2000 fighter bombers, escorted by , took off from bases in India supported by unmanned aerial vehicles and aerial refueling tankers. The Mirages, equipped with 2000 lb Israeli-made SPICE laser-guided bombs, flew into Pakistani territory at low level and bombed a JeM training camp just north of the city of Lahore. India claims 300 JeM militants were killed in the strike. Pakistan claims the air strike hit an empty patch of land.
The next day, the two countries’ air forces began skirmishing in the skies above the disputed Kashmir region. Pakistan claims to have shot down two Indian Air Force aircraft, including at least one aging MiG-21Bis fighter. India has so far confirmed losing one jet to enemy action and claims to have shot down a Pakistani fighter, reportedly a F-16.
India stated the MiG-21Bis pilot is “missing," but he later turned up in Pakistani military hands. Pakistani forces have identified the captured pilot as Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman. The second Indian aircraft downed is reportedly a military Mil-17 transport helicopter (see top photo), but it remains unclear whether or not it was shot down or crashed.
Meanwhile, fighter jets are flying conspicuous patrols over both countries, aggressively defending their airspace from further incursions, with images and video being shared on social media.
It’s hard to sort out exactly what is going on, as information and disinformation is flowing freely by both sides, with social media users often inadvertently sharing wrong information. Pictures of crashed aircraft months old are being used to depict aircraft shot down during the ongoing crisis.
Overshadowing the ongoing crisis is the fact that India and Pakistan have fought four wars against one another since gaining independence from the UK. Of the four wars, fought in 1948, 1965, 1972, and 1999, three started in the disputed Kashmir region. The two countries also have , with India having an estimated 100 to 200 nukes and Pakistan 110 to 130. The possibility that a crisis such as this could escalate into a nuclear conflict is remote but can’t be discounted.