Pakistan claims that it shot down an Indian drone on Wednesday in a worrying episode between the two nuclear-armed neighbors.
Drone experts have since specified that the drone is a small, unarmed, commercially-available vehicle that would not have been carrying secret military technology, writes Katharine Houreld for Reuters. Despite that fact, it must be hoped that the spy drone does not further inflame tensions between Islamabad and New Delhi.
Spy drone shot down along disputed border
Pakistani military sources say they shot the drone down in Kashmir, the disputed region which is a cause of ongoing issues.
“An Indian spy drone was shot down by Pakistani troops which intruded into Pakistan along (the Line of Control) near Bhimber today. The spy drone is used for aerial photography,” a statement from the Pakistani military said.
The Indian military removed to deny the reports. “Some reports of a drone crash in POK (Pakistan Occupied Kashmir) are being referred to. No drone or UAV crash of Indian Army has taken place,” the defence ministry said in a statement.
Bhimber is located in the Himalayan region of Kashmir which is subject to competing claims from Pakistan and India. Troops regularly exchange fire along the heavily-militarized Line of Control.
Huw Williams, the Unmanned Systems Editor at IHS Jane’s International Defense Review, stated that a Chinese-made DJI Phantom 3 appeared in a photo released by the Pakistani military.
“Due to its limited operating range – about two km – if the Indian military is using the system it would most likely be for close reconnaissance or security work,” Williams said. “Our Middle East editor believes that Islamic State are using similar systems.”
Pakistan developing armed drone
The security situation in Pakistan is a precarious one. The country is currently dealing with a Taliban insurgency which has claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands of civilians, and the threat of war with India has not abated despite three major conflicts between the two nations since 1947.
As part of the war on terror, the U.S. military has also operated within Pakistan. It has carried out 419 drone strikes since 2004, targeting thousands of Taliban and al-Qaeda members, but also killing hundreds of civilians.
Pakistan sees the U.S. drone strikes as a violation of its national sovereignty, and has been working to acquire its own lethal drones. Military figures announced the test launch of a drone equipped with a laser-guided missile in March. Experts claimed that the drone appeared to be similar to models produced by China, an increasingly close ally of Pakistan.
High hopes for better relations between neighbors
It had been hoped that a recent meeting between Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Indian counterpart Narendra Modi would go some way to improving relations. The two leaders met at a summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization in Ufa, Russia, after which it was announced that both countries would join the regional grouping, which is led by Russia and China.
After the meeting, the pair released a joint statement announcing that senior military officials would meet with the aim of reducing tensions along the Line of Control. It is not yet known how the drone incident will affect the planned meetings.
It had been hoped that the accession of both nations to the SCO would help to mitigate bilateral tensions. Russia and China have expressed a desire to mediate the relationship between India and Pakistan in order to promote regional stability.
Restive border regions could derail progress
Moscow and New Delhi traditionally enjoy a close relationship, while Islamabad has close ties with Beijing. India and Russia are working on the PAK-FA fighter jet together, and China plans to invest $46 billion in an economic corridor which runs through Pakistan.
It was hoped that the regional organization would improve relations, and Modi announced plans to make a groundbreaking visit to Pakistan next year. In the interests of peace and prosperity it must be hoped that this latest incident does not have a negative impact.
At the same time, India alleges that Pakistani Rangers have been shooting at the Indian region of Jammu. One woman was killed and three people injured in what India calls an unprovoked attack, and Indian troops responded after they came under heavy fire. Skirmishes continued late Wednesday afternoon local time.
Modi is scheduled to visit the border region of Jammu on Friday. Both sides accuse the other of violating a 2003 ceasefire, which has largely held. Small bouts of fire are reported regularly, but the main agreement is still in place.
Perhaps developments at the SCO will encourage a solution to the historic problem of Kashmir.