ISLAMABAD: Pakistan on Sunday forced an Indian army helicopter to land for having violated its airspace, but later allowed the four officers on board and the helicopter to return after interrogating the officers for a couple of hours, military sources said.
They said a lieutenant colonel, two majors and a junior commissioned officer (JCO) were on board the Lama helicopter belonging to the Aviation Corps of the Indian army. The helicopter was deep inside Pakistani territory when it was intercepted and forced to land in the Olding-Kargil sector near the Line of Control (LoC). (Reuters news agency quoted Pakistan military spokesman Major-General Athar Abbas as saying: “The helicopter and four officers on board returned around 5.30pm (1230 GMT) after a contact between the director-general military operations of the two countries.”
The Indian defence ministry said the helicopter had returned to Kargil in Indian-ruled Kashmir. “The issue has been resolved,” the ministry’s spokesman, Sitanshu Kar, said. Indian officials said the helicopter had strayed into Pakistani territory because of bad weather. “The swift release of the helicopter shows both countries do not want to derail the peace process. Otherwise it could have turned into a major crisis,” security analyst Hasan Askari Rizvi said.) “The helicopter was some 20 kilometres inside Pakistan’s territory when it was intercepted and forced to land near Skardu, Gilgit-Baltistan, at about 1pm,” an official of the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) said. During the interrogation, the crew members said the helicopter had strayed because of bad weather and no deliberate attempt had been made to intrude the airspace.
Though Indian planes have violated Pakistan’s airspace in the past as well, it was perhaps for the first time that a chopper was forced to land. It was also the first violation of the country’s airspace by India, after the May 2 raid by US Navy Seals in Abbottabad which led to the killing of Al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden. The incident took place at a time when relations between the two South Asian neighbours have seen an improvement in recent months. Sources said India had been immediately informed about the incident and an investigation was under way to see if it was a mistake or a deliberate attempt to test Pakistan’s defence capabilities.
An official said on the condition of anonymity that in normal circumstances, crew members of a hostile country were not freed in hours, but it had been done to give benefit of doubt because Pakistan did not want to vitiate the atmosphere and derail the composite dialogue process. The sources said a PAF plane scrambled immediately after spotting the helicopter and at the same time the Air Defence, through its communication system, warned those on board that they would come under fire if they tried to escape. Directors General Military Operations of the two countries established contact during which the Indian side said it had violated the airspace by mistake.