Pakistan shows downed Indian pilot; New Delhi demands his release
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.
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.
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.
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.