Pakistan closes airspace as India tensions rise

Indian soldiers and Kashmiri onlookers stand near the remains of an Indian Air Force helicopter after it crashed in Budgam district, outside Srinagar on February 27, 2019. AFP PHOTO

IN SUMMARY

Indian sources confirmed Pakistani fighter jets had violated airspace over Indian Kashmir, but said they were forced back over the LoC, and there was no immediate response to the claim the planes had been shot down.

Pakistan closed its airspace Wednesday, the civil aviation authority and the military said, as fears spiked of an all-out conflict with nuclear-armed neighbour India.

The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) tweeted that it “has officially closed its airspace until further notice”, while a Pakistani military spokesman said the decision had been taken “due to the environment”.

A CAA source told AFP that all airlines had been notified to “suspend their operations in Pakistan until further notice”.

The decision came after Pakistan said it had shot down two Indian Air Force planes in its airspace Wednesday, taking tensions between the South Asian rivals to dangerous new levels.

Pakistan said it had captured two Indian pilots, with one in hospital.

At least five Indian airports were also closed and scores of flights were being cancelled, aviation authorities there said on condition of anonymity.

The Aviation Authority of India did not immediately respond to requests for official comment.

China urges Pakistan, India to show restraint, seek dialogue
China called on Pakistan and India on Wednesday to “exercise restraint” and seek dialogue after Islamabad said it shot down two Indian warplanes in its airspace over disputed Kashmir.

“What we are concerned about is that India and Pakistan, as important countries of the South Asian subcontinent, can maintain good neighbourly and friendly relations,” foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang said at a regular press briefing.

“We hope that both India and Pakistan can exercise restraint, take initiatives that are conducive to promoting dialogue, meet halfway and make active efforts for lasting peace and stability in South Asia,” Lu said.

The reported downing of the Indian planes ignited fears of an all-out conflict between the nuclear-armed neighbours. It came a day after India said it had struck militant camps inside Pakistan.

China is one of Pakistan’s closest allies.

Beijing has poured billions of dollars into the South Asian country as part of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), a massive infrastructure project that seeks to connect its western province of Xinjiang with the Arabian Sea port of Gwadar in Balochistan.

The project is one of the largest in Beijing’s Belt and Road initiative, comprising a network of roads and sea routes involving 65 countries.

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