U.S. President Donald Trump speaks, left, speaks as Mike Pompeo, U.S. secretary of state, looks on following the DPRK-USA Hanoi Summit in Hanoi. (Photographer: SeongJoon Cho/Bloomberg)

U.S. Says India-Pakistan Escalation Risks ‘Unacceptably High’

(Bloomberg) -- The U.S. has urged India and Pakistan to refrain from further military action as international pressure builds on the long-standing rivals to de-escalate the most serious flare-up in decades that’s seen fighter jets from both nations shot down.

"The potential risks associated with further military action by either side are unacceptably high for both countries, their neighbors, and the international community," said a White House National Security Council official who spoke condition of anonymity citing the sensitivity of the matter.

President Donald Trump was more optimistic, and credited the U.S. with helping to ease tensions between the South Asian rivals. “We have, I think, reasonably attractive news from Pakistan and India,” Trump said Thursday. “They’ve been going at it, and we’ve been involved in trying to have them stop.”

India has demanded the "immediate and safe return" of a fighter pilot captured in Pakistan on Wednesday, while Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan called for talks with India.

"Better sense should prevail," Khan said in an address to the nation. "We should sit down and talk."

U.S. Says India-Pakistan Escalation Risks ‘Unacceptably High’

India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi broke 24 hours of silence Thursday to address the crisis with Pakistan, telling workers from his ruling Bharatiya Janata Party: "India will fight as one, India will win as one."

"What we have seen is certainly an escalation, but I thought that Prime Minister Imran Khan’s call for dialogue was something that Prime Minister Modi will find very difficult to ignore," said Gary Samore, former White House official and arms control negotiator, on Bloomberg TV. "There is a lot of international pressure on both India and Pakistan to avoid further clashes."

Modi is just weeks from a hard-fought election, and with nationalist fervor in India running high, he’s under significant pressure to respond. His party has been at pains to point out the prime minister’s "strong and decisive leadership."

"How much political leverage India gets out of this comes from Pakistan’s response," said Sandeep Shastri, a political science professor and Pro Vice Chancellor at Jain University in Bangalore. Referring to India’s air strikes on Tuesday, he said: "I wouldn’t be surprised if this becomes a centerpiece of the BJP’s election campaign."

Pakistan said its fighter jets had shot down two Indian aircraft. One fell inside Pakistan-controlled Kashmir, and the other crashed on India’s side of the Line of Control, said military spokesman Asif Ghafoor.

Videos are circulating on social media that claim to show the arrested Indian pilot in Pakistan’s custody. In one, the pilot states his name, service number and religion.

U.S. Says India-Pakistan Escalation Risks ‘Unacceptably High’

India said Pakistan had attempted to target military installations in response to New Delhi’s attack on Tuesday on a Jaish-e-Mohammed training camp. "The Pakistani aircraft was seen by ground forces falling from the sky on the Pakistan side," Foreign ministry spokesman Ravessh Kumar said at a briefing in New Delhi. Ghafoor, in turn, denied a Pakistani jet had been lost.

"This is unprecedented territory -- we haven’t had tit-for-tat air strikes between India and Pakistan since the 1971 war," said Anit Mukherjee, a former Indian Army major and assistant professor at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore, by phone. "We don’t know what will come from this. But it seems like Pakistan has given a response. And there have been casualties -- captures, deaths."

U.S. Says India-Pakistan Escalation Risks ‘Unacceptably High’

Diplomatic Outreach

Earlier Wednesday it appeared the bitter rivals were looking to lower the temperature with renewed diplomatic outreach.

Pakistan sought help from the United Nations to de-escalate the situation. India reached out to countries including the U.S., U.K., China, France and Russia and urged the government in Islamabad to take action against terror groups based in the country.

U.S. Says India-Pakistan Escalation Risks ‘Unacceptably High’

China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi said there was concern over the growing tensions and urged the two nations to start talks, according to comments posted on the ministry’s website. “China is willing to play a constructive role.”

The diplomatic back-and-forth came after the Indian Air Force said its jets launched airstrikes against terrorists inside Pakistan, which scrambled its own jets in response. The target was a camp run by Jaish-e-Mohammed which claimed responsibility for the Feb. 14 suicide car bombing in Kashmir which killed 40 members of India’s security forces.

The last two days of air strikes represent the worst escalation since 2001, when Pakistan and India moved ballistic missiles and troops to their border following an attack on parliament in New Delhi that was also blamed on Jaish-e-Mohammad. India and Pakistan have fought three major wars since partition and independence in 1947.

"They will not allow things to go out of control because both countries are facing tremendous pressure from global powers including China and the U.S.," said Rashid Ahmed Khan, head of politics and international relations department at University of Central Punjab, Lahore said by phone. "There will be a controlled and managed escalation."

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