Global Policy Forum

Propaganda War Over Plane Attack

BBC Online
August 10, 1999

Pakistan's top political and military leadership are meeting in Islamabad to discuss their next move after one of their military aircraft was shot down by Indian forces, killing all 16 on board. Both countries have retrieved and displayed wreckage from the aircraft, which went down in a swampy border area.

India and Pakistan have differing versions of the incident which has raised tensions and international concern. The Indian air chief has toured the crash area and says the wreckage of the aircraft has probably fallen on both sides of the border. Correspondents say Pakistan is looking to recover diplomatic ground that it lost during the recent conflict over Kashmir.

Delhi says the naval reconnaissance plane entered Indian airspace over the western state of Gujarat and was shot down by a jet fighter after refusing to land. Air force chief A Y Tipnis told journalists the plane had been 10 km inside Indian airspace. After it was shot, it spiralled towards the earth before passing over the border into Pakistan. But Islamabad says the French-made Atlantique plane was unarmed and on a routine training flight in the Sir Creek area in Sindh province, southern Pakistan.

Pakistani Foreign Minister Sartaj Aziz warned: "Pakistan reserves the right to make an appropriate response in self-defence." Military forces of both countries have been placed on alert near their respective borders. India displayed parts of the aircraft to reporters gathered at Delhi, which it said it had retrieved from Indian territory. It said it had recovered part of a wing, the cockpit and the plane's cable hydraulic system. The Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and cabinet members were also shown parts of the wreckage.

On Tuesday, Pakistani officials took journalists to see the plane's fuselage, which had ploughed into the mud of the Indus river at a point they said was two minutes' flying time from Indian territory. A Pakistani army spokesman said troops were guarding the wreckage to ensure Indian soldiers did not take the debris. Pakistan said the aircraft went missing at 1100 Pakistan time on Tuesday and the wreckage was discovered shortly afterwards, a few kilometres inside its own territory. Mr Aziz described the attack as a "blatant and unprovoked act of military aggression against an unarmed aircraft". India has admitted the shooting but said the surveillance aircraft was shot down after veering 10km (six miles) inside its airspace and acting in what was described as a hostile manner. Defence Minister George Fernandes said: "The plane which was shot down had not come with peaceful intentions." The Indian military charged that Pakistan had violated Indian airspace in that area eight times since May.

The United States, the United Nations and Britain have urged both sides to show restraint. In May, India and Pakistan came to the brink of a fourth war in 52 years, when hostilities broke out between the Indian armed forces and Pakistani-backed fighters across the Line of Control in Kashmir. Although fighting in the region ended last month, sporadic shelling between the two sides has continued. There has also been an increase in militant activity in Indian-administered Kashmir with Indian military coming under attack. UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan was "increasingly concerned at the repeated incidents between India and Pakistan and urges that the differences between them be resolved by peaceful means," according to a spokesman.

Washington urged both countries to return to the process of normalising relations agreed last February. The BBC's Daniel Lak in Delhi says the incident will probably not lead to escalating military tensions, but it is another setback to already dim hopes of a diplomatic solution to disputes that have previously led Pakistan and India to full-scale war.

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