India demands Pakistan release pilot as Kashmir crisis intensifies

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Media captionFootage appears to show wreckage from a downed Indian jet

India has demanded the release of a fighter pilot shot down by Pakistan warplanes in a major escalation between the two nuclear powers over Kashmir.

Video showing the pilot - blindfolded and with blood on his face - was shared by Pakistan's information ministry.

India described the images as a "vulgar display of an injured personnel".

Social media users in India have hailed the pilot as a hero. Others are urging both countries to show restraint, with the hashtag #SayNoToWar.

The recent aerial attacks across the Line of Control (LoC) dividing Indian and Pakistani territory in Kashmir are the first since a war in 1971.

The incident, in which Pakistan said it had shot down two military jets, has escalated tensions between the two nations, both of whom claim all of Kashmir, but control only parts of it.

It came a day after India struck what it said was a militant camp in Pakistan in retaliation for a suicide bombing that killed at least 40 Indian troops in Kashmir.

A Pakistan-based group said it carried out the attack - the deadliest to take place during a three-decade insurgency against Indian rule in Kashmir.

On Wednesday, the US urged India and Pakistan to avoid further military action and said it was focused on de-escalating the tension between the two sides.

Image copyright Pakistan Information Ministry (ISPR)
Image caption Pakistan says the Indian pilot, named as as Wing Commander Abhinandan, is being treated well

What happened to the pilot?

The Indian Air Force pilot, identified as Wing Commander Abhinandan, had been reported "missing in action" by Indian officials.

Images then circulated of his capture, which were both condemned for what appeared to be a physical attack at the hands of residents in Pakistan-controlled Kashmir, and praised for the actions of the Pakistani soldiers who intervened to create a barrier.

Pakistan's information ministry published - but subsequently deleted - a video purporting to show the blindfolded pilot, who could be heard requesting water, after he had been captured.

Image copyright Pakistan Information Ministry
Image caption Pakistan's information ministry tweeted a video purporting to show a captured Indian pilot

In later footage, Wing Commander Abhinandan could be seen sipping tea from a cup without a blindfold and appeared to have been cleaned up.

He answered a number of questions including his name, military position and that he was from "down south", before refusing to share any details when asked about his mission: "I'm not supposed to tell you that."

Pakistan's military spokesman Maj Gen Asif Ghafoor said the pilot was being "treated as per norms of military ethics".

What has the social media reaction been?

Correspondents point out that this is the first major conflict between the two countries since social media became mainstream.

And the social media reactions over the last few days have been a very good indicator of the changing mood in India ever since the Pulwama attack.

Largely driven by angry television media coverage, the days after the bombing were full of calls for war and the desire to "teach Pakistan a lesson".

On Tuesday, when India announced it had launched air strikes on militants inside Pakistani territory, the mood was jubilant. The hashtags ranged from #IndiaStrikesBack and #HowsTheJosh (which translates to 'how is the fighting spirit') - a line taken from the Bollywood film Uri which celebrated India's first "surgical strike" in Pakistan-administered Kashmir in 2016.

But with Wing Commander Abhinandan's capture, the jubilation died down.

A new #SayNoToWar also began trending as users from both countries urged their governments to show restraint.

What were the air strikes about?

Maj Gen Ghafoor said that Pakistan fighter jets had carried out "strikes" - exactly what they did remains unclear - in Indian-administered Kashmir on Wednesday.

Two Indian air force jets then responded, crossing the de facto border that divides Kashmir. "Our jets were ready and we shot both of them down," he said.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Pakistani soldiers by what Pakistan says is wreckage from a downed Indian jet

Pakistan's information ministry also tweeted what it said was footage of one of the downed Indian jets.

India's Ministry of External Affairs spokesman Raveesh Kumar acknowledged the loss of a MiG-21 fighter jet and its pilot.

He also said that an Indian plane had shot down a Pakistani fighter jet, and Indian ground forces observed it falling on the Pakistani side of the LoC. Pakistan denied any of its jets had been hit.

What is the political fallout?

The sequence of events over the last few days have rapidly shifted from being seen as a boost for the ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) ahead of upcoming parliamentary elections, to a general feeling of disenchantment over the way things have turned out.

On Wednesday evening, when news of the captured pilot dominated headlines, India's opposition parties issued a statement in which they attacked the ruling BJP of "blatant politicisation of the armed forces' sacrifices".

In a series of tweets, India's finance minister Arun Jaitley hit back, saying the joint statement was "being used by Pakistan to bolster its case".

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has not publicly commented on the situation since Tuesday when India announced its air strikes on militant bases inside Pakistan.

There is mounting pressure on Mr Modi - who will face an election by the end of May - to say something about the current situation. Many have compared his silence to Prime Minister Imran Khan, who addressed the nation on Wednesday and called for dialogue with India.

What did Pakistan say?

Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan said in a televised address that the two sides could not afford a miscalculation "given the weapons we have".

"We should sit down and talk," he said.

"If we let it happen, it will remain neither in my nor Narendra Modi's control.

"Our action is just to let them know that just like they intruded into our territory, we are also capable of going into their territory," he added.

Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj also said "India does not wish to see further escalation of the situation," speaking from a meeting with Russian and Chinese foreign ministers in China.

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