Pakistan Says It's Holding Indian Pilot After Jet Shot Down In Cross-Border Airstrike Both sides claim to have shot down the others' warplanes in what amounts to a major escalation of tensions between the rival nuclear powers.
NPR logo

Pakistan Says It's Holding Indian Pilot After Jet Shot Down In Cross-Border Airstrike

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/698519338/698700506" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Pakistan Says It's Holding Indian Pilot After Jet Shot Down In Cross-Border Airstrike

Pakistan Says It's Holding Indian Pilot After Jet Shot Down In Cross-Border Airstrike

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/698519338/698700506" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Two nuclear-armed neighbors India and Pakistan moved closer to war today. Both claimed to have shot down the other's fighter jets. India says one of its air force pilots is missing, and Pakistan says it captured him alive. NPR's Lauren Frayer is in northern India and joins us now. Hi, Lauren.

LAUREN FRAYER, BYLINE: Hi, Ari.

SHAPIRO: Explain what happened today.

FRAYER: So Pakistan says it conducted airstrikes along the India border. It also says it shot down two Indian aircraft that entered its airspace. It says it captured one of the pilots. And a spokesman for Pakistan's military even tweeted out a photo of this pilot. India gives a slightly different set of events. It accuses Pakistani planes of entering its airspace, but it does confirm that one of its jets was shot down and that a pilot is missing. And video has emerged of a man that we think may be that pilot. And here's what it sounds like.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

WING COMMANDER ABHINANDAN VARTHAMAN: Yeah, my name is Wing Commander Abhinandan. My service number is 27981. I'm a flying pilot. My religion...

FRAYER: So you can hear a commotion there. Somebody's phone is ringing in the background. The man is blindfolded. His face is bloody. He identifies himself as a wing commander in the Indian Air Force. He calls his captor sir. He's very polite. He asks if he is in the custody of the Pakistani Army. Now, there's also another video clip. We can't verify the authenticity of these. But there's another clip that's airing on Pakistani media in which the man's blindfold is off and he's sipping tea and says he's been treated very well. Meanwhile, India has called these videos vulgar and suggests they may even violate the Geneva Convention.

SHAPIRO: Lauren, this is a pretty scary escalation along a border that has been tense for years. Why is this suddenly happening right now?

FRAYER: In an address to his nation, Pakistan's prime minister, Imran Khan, explained it. He says Pakistan is retaliating for Indian airstrikes yesterday. Now, India says it launched airstrikes and killed a very large number of terrorists at a training camp inside Pakistan yesterday. The training camp, it says, was run by a banned militant group. And here's what Imran Khan said today.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRIME MINISTER IMRAN KHAN: (Speaking Urdu).

FRAYER: There he is speaking in Urdu, and he says, "the sole purpose of Pakistan's actions today was to convey this message." Essentially, if you come into our country, we're going to do the same. So he says he's retaliating for Indian actions. But he did also offer talks with India. Now, the problem is India also says it's retaliating against Pakistani actions. And it really depends on how far back you want to go. Two weeks ago, there was a suicide car bomb in Kashmir. That's a disputed territory that's split between the two countries. That bombing killed 40 Indian troops. A Pakistan-based militant group claimed responsibility.

SHAPIRO: OK, so this cycle seems to be escalating, but some version of this has been going on for the better part of seven decades, right? So how do they avoid this blowing up into all-out war?

FRAYER: That's a really good question. The conflict does go all the way back to independence from Britain in 1947. And at partition, Pakistan was carved out of the Muslim-majority areas of India. But the one exception was Kashmir, and that's this disputed Himalayan territory that's currently split between the two countries. It's a Muslim-majority area. But back in 1947, the local ruler at the time was a Hindu who joined India. And so the two countries India and Pakistan have basically been fighting over Kashmir ever since. They've fought three wars. We hope this is not leading into a fourth.

SHAPIRO: That's NPR's Lauren Frayer in northern India. Thank you, Lauren.

FRAYER: You're welcome, Ari.

Copyright © 2019 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.