Pakistan's envoy to Washington called for more "active involvement" from the United States to help defuse simmering, claiming a lack of condemnation of may have "emboldened" Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government to escalate a burgeoning crisis.
"We would certainly like to have more, and would certainly like to see more active involvement of the United States" in addressing the standoff, said Ambassador Asad Khan, who spoke to reporters at the Pakistani embassy on Wednesday.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who is in Vietnam as President Trump holds his second summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, said in a statement issued Tuesday that he had spoken to his counterparts in India and Pakistan. Pompeo said he encouraged the two sides to "avoid escalation at any cost," and urged the latter to take "meaningful action against terrorist groups operating on its soil."
The United States' response to an Indian airstrike in Pakistani territory earlier this week was "construed and understood as an endorsement of the Indian position, and that is what emboldened them even more," Khan said.
India and Pakistan, both nuclear powers, have been locked in an intensifying dispute after a Pakistan-based extremist group claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing that killed at least 40 Indian paramilitary police officers in Kashmir, a divided territory in the Himalayan mountains, on February 14. The two rival nations have fought several wars since becoming independent in 1947.
On Tuesday, India launched airstrikes in Pakistan that it later claimed killed hundreds of suspected fighters. Pakistan disputed India's account, saying its jets were successfully intercepted within minutes and that no casualties resulted from bombs Indian forces had dropped in what was an "uninhabited, remote" area, according to Khan.
On Wednesday, Pakistan's Air Force attacked six sites in Kashmir and said it shot down two Indian aircraft that had entered its territory; one pilot was captured and is being held in Pakistan.
"For us these strikes were not in retaliation to continued Indian belligerence but a demonstration of our right, will and capability for self-defense," Khan said. "The strikes are deliberately directed at non-military targets avoiding human loss and collateral damage."
India has demanded the immediate return of its pilot and said it "strongly objected" to images that have surfaced allegedly showing him blindfolded and bloodied.
Khan said the pilot "has been treated very nicely" by Pakistan's army but declined to say whether he would be returned.
"We'll see, because the situation is still very fluid; this will be part of the conversations that we will have," Khan said.
A State Department spokesperson said the United States continued to call on India and Pakistan to "cease all cross-border military activity."
"We urge both sides to take immediate steps to de-escalate the situation, including through direct communication. Further military activity will exacerbate the situation," the spokesperson said.
Khan accused Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who faces significant political headwinds ahead of India's general elections this spring, of using a crisis to "draw political mileage at home."
"Pakistan has no intention for escalation but is fully prepared to do so if forced into the paradigm," he said.