Indian and Pakistani troops exchange fire

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Indian soldiers stand next to the wreckage of Indian Air Force's helicopter after it crashed in Budgam district in Kashmir February 27, 2019. REUTERS/Danish Ismail

NEW DELHI/SRINAGAR (Reuters) – Indian and Pakistani troops traded fire briefly along the contested border in Kashmir yesterday morning, a day after the two nuclear powers both downed enemy jets, with Pakistan capturing an Indian pilot.

The United States, China and other world powers have urged restraint from the two nations as tensions escalate following tit-for-tat airstrikes in the wake of a suicide car bombing that killed at least 40 Indian paramilitary police in Indian-controlled Kashmir on February 14.

Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan has called for talks.

. .

“History tells us that wars are full of miscalculation. My question is that, given the weapons we have, can we afford miscalculation,” Mr Khan said during a brief televised broadcast to the nation. “We should sit down and talk.”

Pakistan has shut its airspace, forcing commercial airlines to reroute. Thai Airways International announced yesterday that it had cancelled flights to Pakistan and Europe, which left thousands of passengers stranded in Bangkok.

Several airlines including Emirates and Qatar Airways, suspended flights to Pakistan on Wednesday, while others such as Singapore Airlines and British Airways were forced to reroute flights.

Yesterday morning troops from India and Pakistan briefly exchanged fire in Poonch, a district in Indian-occupied Kashmir, according to a statement from the Indian army.

“The Indian army retaliated strongly and effectively,” said Lieutenant Colonel Devender Anand, a defence ministry spokesman.

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The firing, that India claims was initiated by Pakistan and lasted for a little over an hour beginning at 6am local time, was significantly less elevated than the artillery fire exchanged by the two sides on Wednesday.

Pakistan said the firing began overnight.

“The firing continued in intervals throughout the night. It was moderate. Even now it’s continuing,” said Shaukat Yusufzai, an administration official in the Pakistan-controlled part of Poonch.

One man was hospitalised after being hit by shrapnel, he added.

India is building more than 14,000 bunkers for families in Jammu and Kashmir state living close to the border, hoping to keep them safe near their homes rather than evacuate them.

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On Wednesday evening India’s foreign ministry handed a dossier to Pakistan that it claimed detailed camps of the Paskistan-based militant group that carried out the February 14 attack.

The conflict comes at a critical time for Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who faces a general election in a matter of months.

The latest escalation marks a sudden deterioration in relations between the two countries. As recently as November, Pakistan’s leader Mr Khan spoke of “mending ties” with India.

The White House urged “both sides to take immediate steps to de-escalate the situation.”

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement he had spoken separately with the foreign ministers of India and Pakistan and urged them to “prioritise direct communication and avoid further military activity”.

Pakistan’s envoy to the United States, Asad Majeed Khan, said Islamabad would like to see US President Donald Trump’s administration play a more active role in easing the crisis.

At the same time, he said the lack of US condemnation of India’s strike on Pakistan was “construed and understood as an endorsement of the Indian position, and that is what emboldened them even more”.

China, the European Union and other countries also called for restraint. Japan’s foreign mininster said yesterday the country was concerned about the “deteriorating situation”.

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