The Pakistan Army deserves to be complimented for the mature manner in which it tackled the straying of an Indian Army helicopter into Pakistan-administered Kashmir at the weekend. Thanks to the cool handling of the incident, a major diplomatic and military stand-off between India and Pakistan was averted.
Instructions to Pakistani officers on the ground would have come from Chief of the Army Staff Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, so the fact that this didn’t escalate is an encouraging sign. But first it’s worth taking a brief look at the chain of events.
On October 23, an Indian Army Cheetah helicopter was forced to land in Pakistan-administered Kashmir (described by India as Pakistan Occupied Kashmir or PoK) after it inadvertently strayed there in the afternoon due to bad weather. The chopper had four personnel on board. An Indian Army spokesman said the incident took place at about 1320 hours, while the aircraft was on a routine administration and maintenance flight.
The helicopter is said to have inadvertently crossed over into PoK in the Gultari Sector due to inclement weather. ‘(After) an early intervention of diplomatic and military channels the matter was resolved amicably, and by late evening helicopter was landed back in Kargil,’ the Indian Army spokesman said.
The resolution followed a tense wait after an Indian External Affairs Ministry spokesman admitted earlier that a helicopter had strayed across the Line of Control and landed there. ‘Efforts are underway to establish contact with Pakistani to retrieve the personnel and helicopter. Our high commission in Islamabad is also in touch with the Pakistani side,’ the spokesman had stated.
Indian government sources said the matter was resolved after the Pakistani Defence Ministry swung into action. The two sides’ directors general of military operations kept in regular touch with each other, and the Pakistani authorities decided to release the helicopter and the crew after completing the verification process. Pakistani military authorities claimed that the Indian helicopter had strayed ‘very deep into the Pakistani territory.’
This incident could herald greater military-to-military understanding between India and Pakistan, two countries that have fought three direct wars and one indirect war in Kargil in 1999. Pakistan could have used the incident to offset the pressure it has been under from the United States in the past few weeks, but chose not to exploit the situation. The fact that Rawalpindi chose not to up the ante should go down well with the Indian military establishment, and the two neighbours need now to take military-to-military ties a step closer.