A PAKISTANI civilian helicopter violated the airspace agreement along the Line of Control (LoC) in J&K’s Poonch sector around noon Sunday and was fired upon by Indian Army troops using small arms, officials said. It returned undamaged after about a minute, they said.
Speaking to The Indian Express, Pakistan-occupied Kashmir’s Tourism Minister Mushtaq Minhas said he was on board the helicopter at the time, along with PoK Prime Minister Raja Farooq Haider Khan, the PM’s personal security officer, and the province’s Education Minister Ifthikar Gilani.
“We had no idea that we had breached (the airspace agreement), nor did we know that we were being fired at. When we landed at our destination, we learnt that there was firing on our chopper from the Indian side,” Minhas said.
Indian officials said the helicopter, painted white, hovered over the Karmara area in the Sarla battalion sector nearly 8 km from Poonch town around 12.13 pm, breaking the agreement between India and Pakistan that no helicopter can come within one km of the LoC and no fixed wing aircraft within 10 km.
The Defence Ministry spokesperson in Jammu, Lt Colonel Devender Anand, said that the helicopter breached the agreement by 700m. “Army troops along the LoC fired at it using small arms. The chopper returned without any damage,” he said.
According to Minhas, the pilot did not get any message from the ATC. “But that was possibly because it was not a government or military helicopter. This was privately arranged. We planned the visit the night before. We had to go to a place called Samahni for a condolence visit. It’s a seven-hour journey by road, so we decided that it would be best to go by helicopter. We stopped at Forward Kahuta to meet people in the area, which is surrounded on three sides by the LoC,” he said.
According to Standard Operating Procedure, two IAF fighter jets were airborne as soon as the violation was reported by the Army. But they were not required as the helicopter returned.
A purported video of the incident showed a helicopter flying against the backdrop of hills, and small arms fire could be heard in the background. “After crossing Abbaspur, we got a nice view of Poonch city on the right, but we didn’t think it was unusual because we see Poonch all the time from Chirikot on our side,” Minhas said.
Pakistani chopper violates Indian airspace in Poonch district. https://t.co/GrFZvIFcPf
Note: The Indian Express couldn’t independently verify the authenticity of this footage. pic.twitter.com/HFF7b18ojP
— The Indian Express (@IndianExpress) September 30, 2018
The PoK Minister also denied reports in India that the incident was a Pakistan Army “plot” to assassinate the PoK PM, citing the ATC’s failure to alert the pilot. The Pakistan Muslim League (N) of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif runs the PoK government, having won the election there in 2016. There have been reports of tensions between Raja Farooq Haider Khan and Imran Khan’s PTI government.
“Nothing like that at all. When we landed at Forward Kahuta, our Army officials advised us to take another route to Samahni. So we flew there via Rawalkote and returned to Islamabad safely,” Minhas said.
The incident comes at a time when bilateral relations have hit a low, with External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj launching a scathing attack on Pakistan during her speech to the UN General Assembly Saturday.
Last Tuesday, the body of a BSF personnel was found near the international border in J&K’s Ramgarh sector with three bullet wounds, and the throat slit. BSF officials said the soldier, identified as Head Constable Narender Kumar, was killed by Pakistan Rangers.
(With Arun Sharma/Jammu & ENS/New Delhi)