NEW DELHI: Indicating a new resolve in dealing with Pakistan and conveying the message that the Line of Control is no longer sacrosanct, India on Tuesday said its air force had intruded deep into Pakistan and struck a major training camp of Jaish-e-Mohammad, “eliminating a very large number of JeM terrorists.”
In a hurriedly called press conference in the morning, foreign secretary Vijay Gokhale said the strike was a pre-emptive one, since there were intelligence reports that the JeM, which claimed responsibility for the February 14 suicide bombing of a CRPF convoy in Pulwama in Kashmir, was preparing for yet another attack on India. This was the first time Indian aircraft crossed the Line of Control after the 1971 war, and indicated New Delhi was ready to call Pakistan’s nuclear bluff, said experts.
Earlier in the day, while admitting on Twitter that Indian aircraft had indeed crossed the LoC, Pakistan’s director general (DG) of Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) and military spokesperson Maj Gen Asif Ghafoor claimed, “Facing timely and effective response from Pakistan Air Force, the Indian planes released payload in haste while escaping which fell near Balakot. No casualties or damage.”
According to Gokhale, however, “India struck the biggest training camp of JeM in Balakot. In this operation, a very large number of JeM terrorists, trainers, senior commanders and groups of jihadis who were being trained for fidayeen action were eliminated. This facility at Balakot was headed by Maulana Yousuf Azhar (alias Ustad Ghouri), the brother-in-law of Masood Azhar, chief of JeM.” Though Gokhale did not give any figures, unofficial reports put the toll between 350 to 500. Reports that Yousuf Azhar was among the dead could not be confirmed.
In Pakistan, Prime Minister Imran Khan called a special meeting of the National Security Committee in his office in the afternoon, where after rejecting India’s claims of having struck a JeM camp, it was decided that Pakistan would respond “at the time and place of its choosing”. It was also decided that the issue would be raised at the UN Security Council and the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, which has invited Sushma as guest of honour for its foreign ministers’ conclave on March 1.
Later, India’s Acting High Commissioner in Pakistan, Gaurav Ahluwalia, was summoned by Pakistan’s foreign office.