Officials around the world urged restraint after military clashes on Wednesday between India and Pakistan sparked concerns over a possible escalation. Pakistan said it had shot down two Indian aircraft that had entered its airspace, while India claimed that its military had also downed a Pakistani jet.
It was the first time the two countries had attacked each other with fighter jets since acquiring nuclear weapons. On the ground, tensions mounted further after photo and video footage of a captured Indian military pilot emerged on social media, triggering condemnations from India, where officials accused Pakistan of a “vulgar display of an injured personnel.”
In their response to the incidents, world powers refrained from explicitly backing one side and instead issued calls for de-escalation. The U.S. and Chinese positions on Indian-controlled Kashmir have differed in the past: While the United States has usually supported India’s rule there, China has tended to back Pakistan, which also claims the territory.
On Wednesday, however, both the U.S. and the Chinese responses appeared to point into the same direction.
After days of remaining silent on the Indian-Pakistani tensions, several U.S. officials weighed in on Wednesday with carefully worded remarks that sought to avoid putting the blame on either of the sides. President Trump said Thursday from Hanoi that he was hopeful about the prospects of peace between India and Pakistan amid “reasonably attractive news.” He did not elaborate further.
Later on Thursday, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan said Pakistan would release the captured Indian pilot on Friday as a “peace gesture.” It was not immediately clear if the United States played a role in the negotiations leading up to that announcement.
The Pentagon said in a statement that the acting secretary of defense, Patrick Shanahan, was focused on “de-escalating tensions and urging both of the nations to avoid further military action.”
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo urged both nations in a statement to “prioritize direct communication.”
Meanwhile, China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said Wednesday that “we hope the two sides will bear in mind the peace and stability in the region, exercise restraint, step up dialogue and properly resolve relevant issue, so as to safeguard the fundamental interests of their countries, maintain peace and stability in the region and refrain from actions that might lead to further escalation of tensions.”
But divisions over the underlying causes of the current violence may still open up in the future. France, Britain and the United States have indicated that they would support blacklisting the Pakistan-based militant group Jaish-e-Muhammad, whose Feb. 14 attack on Indian-controlled Kashmir triggered the escalation. China would have to agree to that move and Beijing’s consent is considered to be unlikely, according to Reuters.
For now, bringing India and Pakistan back to the negotiation table is being considered a more pressing priority.
The European Union’s foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, said Wednesday that the military confrontation “has the potential to lead to serious and dangerous consequences for the two countries and the wider region.”
While the E.U. continued to urge India and Pakistan to “avoid any further escalation of the situation,” Turkey said that both nations should use “common sense” to come to an agreement.
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