Islamabad, Feb 26: Pakistan on Tuesday reacted strongly to the IAF strike on Jaish-e-Mohammed’s (JeM) biggest training camp in Balakot, with its leaders threatening a “befitting response” to India and Prime Minister Imran Khan directing the country’s armed forces and citizens to “remain prepared for all eventualities”.
A high-level meeting of the National Security Council (NSC) chaired by Khan “rejected Indian claims of targeting an alleged terrorist camp near Balakot as well as the claim of heavy casualties” and said in a statement that Pakistan will decide the time and place of response to the “aggression”, Geo News reported.
Khan, as per the statement, “directed that elements of national power, including the armed forces and the people of Pakistan, remain prepared for all eventualities” and summoned a special meeting of the National Command Authority on Wednesday.
“Once again Indian government has resorted to a self-serving, reckless and fictitious claim. This action has been done for domestic consumption being in election environment, putting regional peace and stability at grave risk.
“The claimed area of strike is open for the world to see the facts on ground. For this domestic and international media is being taken to the impact site. Forum (meeting) concluded that India has committed uncalled for aggression to which Pakistan shall respond at the time and place of its choosing,” the statement read.
The Prime Minister also decided to engage with the global leadership to expose the “irresponsible” Indian policy in the region and said the violation of the LoC will be raised with the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), the UN and friendly countries, it added.
The NSC meeting, which was attended by the civil and military leadership, including Army chief, Gen Qamar Jawed Bajwa and the Defence and Foreign Affairs Ministers, decided that a joint session will be called to take Parliament into confidence.
Following the meeting, Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi addressed a joint conference alongside Finance Minister Asad Umar and Defence Minister Pervez Khattak and said the issue will be raised with international leadership through the Foreign Office and the Prime Minister.
Qureshi said that Khan had telephonic conversations with UAE Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan as well as Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman over the issue.
“I also took British and Chinese Foreign Ministers into confidence because I knew a trilateral meeting is about to take place in Beijing between India, China and Russia,” he added.
Qureshi had earlier in the day addressed an emergency consultative meeting at the Foreign Office where he said that Pakistan holds the “right to self-defence” and a “befitting response” to India.
Khattak said that the country’s Air Force was “ready” (for the Indian aircraft) and “gave a clear indication to (India) that if such an action is repeated, a clear response will be given”.
“Pakistan Air Force was already airborne and we were ready for all eventualities,” Qureshi said, adding the neighbouring country’s planes left within three minutes.
“…The timely action of Pakistan Air Force stopped them. They diverted the Indian jets, which went back because of the alertness of our Air Force.”
Asked if Indian violation could affect the Katarpur border crossing, Qureshi responded: “Kartarpur was a dream that Pakistan fulfilled. It had a message of peace that Pakistan gave. We opened the way for Kartarpur, not to shut them. Hopefully, Indians will also open up their brains. They are closed (right now) because they are focused on politics.”
The air strikes were condemned by other political leaders too.
President Arif Alvi said: “We are protected by our armed forces and we know how to protect our nation. We don’t have any bad intentions for any country, but we know how to defend ourselves.”
Former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said: “May God protect the country and never let any harm come to Pakistan.”
PML-N President Shehbaz Sharif urged India to refrain from plunging the region into war. He asked the Indian leadership to “rethink its war strategy” and warned that if India initiated a war, then Pakistan would hoist its flag in New Delhi.
Pakistan Army spokesperson Major General Asif Ghafoor said earlier that the Indian intrusion in Muzaffarabad sector happened 3-4 miles from the LoC.
“Under forced hasty withdrawal the aircraft released payload which had free fall in an open area. No infrastructure got hit, no casualties,” he said following an uproar in Pakistan about Indian jets flying deep into its territory.
Tuesday’s attack came after a JeM suicide bomber killed 40 CRPF troopers in Jammu and Kashmir’s Pulwama district on February 14. It was the worst attack on the security forces in Jammu and Kashmir at one go since militancy erupted in 1989.