Pakistan, which was the first to announce the incursion, said the war planes made it up to five miles inside its territory before they were rebuffed, dropping their payloads without casualties or damage.
Pakistan’s armed forces spokesman, Maj-Gen Asif Ghafoor, tweeted on Tuesday morning that the Indian jets had dropped their bombs in an empty forested area. “No infrastructure got hit, no casualties,” he wrote.
India’s limited airstrikes across the “line of control” in Kashmir, and Pakistan’s warning that it is preparing for “all eventualities”, appear to be more political posturing than a prelude to all-out war. At least, that is what the international community hopes as the nuclear-armed neighbours square off once again.
Rationally speaking, neither country’s prime minister can afford another full-scale conflict – Pakistan’s Imran Khan because he is still getting started after winning power for the first time last July, India’s Narendra Modi because he is seeking a second chance in national polls this spring.
Two of the three major India-Pakistan conflicts since partition in 1947 have been waged over Kashmir. They have one factor in common. The war of 1965, the Kargil conflict of 1999, and lesser, recurring clashes have settled nothing. Kashmir remains divided, disputed and prone to violence, the scene of a low-level insurgency and a constant source of friction exploited by extremists on both sides.
Modi clearly felt he had to do something after the Valentine’s Day massacre by Islamist terrorists based in Azad Kashmir that killed 44 Indian paramilitaries. Public opinion, and his political rivals, demanded he act. Tuesday’s “surgical strikes” were the less risky option, compared with a lengthier cross-border ground operation to which Pakistan would perforce have responded militarily.Areas of Kashmir controlled by Pakistan, India and China
Overheated tempers could have had the opposite effect, as in the past, pushing Modi into more drastic action – and this remains a possibility. Yet what looks, at present, like an Indian decision to limit reprisals was helped by Khan’s calm, non-escalatory handling of the post-attack fallout so far. He maintained this ostensibly reasonable approach on Tuesday, reserving the right to respond “appropriately” in self-defence.
Imran Khan, the Pakistani prime minister, said India’s claim that it had hit a terrorist training camp was “a self-serving, reckless and fictitious claim”.
“This action has been done for domestic consumption in the election environment, putting regional peace and stability at grave risk,” Khan said, referring to India’s general election which starts in two months.
Pakistan’s army said it would respond to India’s incursion at an unspecified time. “It is your turn now to wait and get ready for our surprise,” Ghafoor said, addressing India’s leaders.
Ghafoor said a joint session of Pakistan’s parliament would be held on Wednesday, followed by a meeting of the National Command Authority, whose responsibilities include overseeing the country’s nuclear arsenal.
The attacks overnight followed nearly a fortnight of sabre-rattling between the pair over the southern Kashmir suicide bombing, in which India has claimed Pakistan had a “direct hand”. JeM is based in Pakistan but Islamabad has rejected any responsibility for the attack.
Gokhale said Indian jets struck JeM’s largest training camp in the Balakot area, claiming a “very large number of JeM terrorists, trainers, senior commanders and groups of jihadis being trained for fidayeen [suicide] action were eliminated.” The facility, which he described as being in thick forest on a hilltop, was far away from any civilian settlements,overseen by the brother-in-law of the JeM chief, Masood Azhar, he added.