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Pakistan says it downed Indian warplanes and captured pilot in major escalation between nuclear rivals

Both countries have ordered airstrikes over the last two days, the first time in history that two nuclear-armed powers have done so.
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MUZAFFARABAD, Pakistan — Pakistan shot down two Indian warplanes Wednesday in the disputed region of Kashmir and captured a pilot, its military said, raising tensions between the nuclear-armed rivals to a level unseen in 20 years.

The dramatic escalation came hours after Pakistan said mortar shells fired by Indian troops from across the frontier dividing the two sectors of Kashmir killed six civilians and wounded several others. Earlier Tuesday, Indian warplanes had struck inside Pakistan for the first time since a war in 1971.

Both countries have ordered airstrikes over the last two days, the first time in history that two nuclear-armed powers have done so. Their ground forces have also exchanged fire in more than a dozen locations.

The Indian air force shut Kashmir's main airport in Srinagar along with at least three others in neighboring states because of the incidents, an official said. Pakistan also closed its airspace.

Image: The wreckage of an Indian fighter jet
Troops stand next to what Pakistan says is the wreckage of an Indian fighter jet its military shot down on Wednesday.STRINGER / AFP - Getty Images

In a televised speech, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan sought to defuse the situation.

"I ask India: with the weapons you have and the weapons we have, can we really afford a miscalculation?" he said. "Let's sit and settle this with talks."

Military spokesman Maj. Gen. Asif Ghafoor tweeted that "only one pilot" is in Pakistan's custody after earlier reports said they had captured two. The tweet included a picture of a mustachioed man identified as the Indian pilot sipping tea.

An army official who could not be identified under briefing rules said the confusion came from soldiers on the ground. While two planes were shot down, he said one pilot landed inside Pakistani-controlled Kashmir and the other on the Indian side of the disputed border.

Despite Geneva Convention rules prohibiting the public display of prisoners , the military circulated a video of the Indian pilot, who was recorded saying he was being well treated and praising the Pakistan military.

India confirmed that one of its Mig-21 fighter aircraft had been "lost" in an engagement with intruding Pakistani aircraft in the Indian portion of Kashmir.

Meanwhile, Indian police said officials recovered four bodies from the wreckage of an Indian air force chopper that crashed in Indian-controlled sector of Kashmir. It wasn't immediately clear if that crash was related to Pakistan's claim of shooting down a second Indian aircraft.

Kashmir is split between Pakistan and India and claimed by both in its entirety.

Though Pakistani and Indian troops in Kashmir often trade fire, the latest civilian casualties on the Pakistani side came a day after tensions escalated sharply following a pre-dawn airstrike and incursion by India on Tuesday that New Delhi said targeted a terrorist training camp in northwestern Pakistan.

Tensions have increased between the two countries since Jaish-e-Mohammad claimed responsibility for the Feb. 14 suicide bombing of a convoy of India's paramilitary forces in the Indian portion of Kashmir that killed 40 soldiers.

Pakistan has said it was not involved in the attack and was ready to help New Delhi in the investigations.

Image: A man holds an Indian flag in New Delhi
A man holds an Indian flag during celebrations in New Delhi on Tuesday after officials announced the country's air force had conducted airstrikes on militant camps in Pakistani territory.ADNAN ABIDI / Reuters

On Wednesday, Pakistan's Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi told state-run Pakistan Television he was in touch with his counterparts across the world about the "Indian aggression," adding that New Delhi had endangered peace in the region by launching an airstrike on Pakistan.

The Foreign Ministry added that the strikes were aimed at "avoiding human loss and collateral damage."

In New Delhi, India's External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj said Wednesday her country does not wish to see further escalation of the situation with Pakistan and that it will continue to act with restraint.

She said the limited objective of India's strike inside Pakistan on a terrorist training camp Tuesday was to act decisively against the terrorist infrastructure of Jaish-e-Mohammad, to pre-empt another terror attack in India.

Pakistan and India have fought three wars since independence from British colonial rule in 1947 and went to the brink a fourth in 2002 after a Pakistani militant attack on India's parliament.

Mushtaq Yusufzai reported from Peshawar, Pakistan.