Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi on Tuesday asserted that Pakistan is a peaceful country but understands the importance of protecting its borders, as he outlined the government's response and future course of action in the wake of the Indian Air Force's (IAF) violation of the Line of Control (LoC).
Qureshi made these remarks at a joint press conference in Islamabad alongside Finance Minister Asad Umar and Defence Minister Pervez Khattak.
The foreign minister started the press conference by reading out a statement of the National Security Committee (NSC), which was convened by Prime Minister Imran Khan earlier in the day.
The committee, Qureshi said, "strongly rejected Indian claim of targeting an alleged terrorist camp near Balakot as well as the claim of heavy casualties".
Pakistan's course of action
- Engage with global leadership 'to expose irresponsible Indian policy'
- Local, international media to be taken to the site of Indian violation
- PM summons special meeting of the National Command Authority (NCA) tomorrow
- Armed forces to remain prepared for all eventualities
"Once again Indian government has resorted to a self-serving, reckless and fictitious claim," the statement said. "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 concluded that India has committed uncalled for aggression to which Pakistan shall respond at the time and place of its choosing."
The prime minister, as per the NSC statement, has directed that elements of national power — including the armed forces — and the people of Pakistan remain prepared for all eventualities.
"He [Prime Minister Khan] decided to engage with global leadership to expose irresponsible Indian policy in the region," the statement reads.
The prime minister also "appreciated timely and effective response of the Pakistan Air Force to repulse Indian attempt without any loss of life or property".
PM in touch with global leaders
Qureshi announced that "a three-member committee has been formed, including me, finance minister and defence minister to approach the parliament, and so that the people of Pakistan can be taken into confidence on the evolving situation".
He added that helicopters were at the ready to take local and international media to the site of the Indian violation. "The helicopters are ready. If the weather permits, then they will be taken there so they could inspect themselves and expose the Indian propaganda [...] the story being presented is different from the facts."
"It has been decided that international leadership will be engaged with through the foreign office and prime minister. At the request of Pakistan, there is an OIC (Organisation of Islamic Cooperation) conflict group emergency meeting underway [in Jeddah], and Tehmina Janjua is representing Pakistan there. We will present Pakistan's point of view at that forum."
The foreign minister said that Prime Minister Imran Khan has also had telephonic conversations with UAE Crown Prince Sheikh 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," Qureshi said. "I wanted to present the facts to them."
Speaking on India’s External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj being invited to address the Inaugural Plenary of the 46th Session of the Council of Foreign Ministers of the OIC, Qureshi said: "Today, the situation has changed. Aggression has been done against a founding member of the OIC, the Muslims in India are in fear, and Kashmiris are being targeted.
"That incident [on February 14] took place in Pulwama but the reaction was seen across all states of India. Students have had to hide and save their lives. In New Delhi, there have been attacks on youth. A Muslim journalist who had no relation to Pulwama was attacked and beaten [because] he was a Kashmiri."
"Keeping this situation in mind we need to reevaluate, and we need to brief the parliament. Whatever the facts are, aside from the foreign office, the DG military operations and deputy chief of air staff will together take them into confidence and inform them about the exact situation. It is our responsibility and obligation to inform the people of Pakistan."
Ministers praise timely action of Pakistan Air Force
Khattak, the defence minister, in reply to a question said that the PAF 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. "I don't want to go into details here but 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."
The foreign minister asserted that "our planes were not late. We were fully ready and they [PAF] are always ready to face the challenge. Do not underestimate their ability. We have our own sense of timing. We will act, not react."
When 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 ways for Kartarpur not to shut them. Hopefully, Indian also open up their brains. They are closed [right now] because they are focused on politics."
Editorial: Kartarpur politics
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Khan, as per the NSC statement, has also summoned a special meeting of the National Command Authority (NCA) on Wednesday.
The NCA is the apex civilian-led command headed by the prime minister to oversee the policy formulation, exercises, deployment, research and development, and operational command and control of the country’s nuclear arsenals.
The NSC meeting was attended by Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee General Zubair Mahmood Hayat, Chief of the Army Staff (COAS) Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa, Chief of the Naval Staff Admiral Zafar Mahmood Abbasi, Chief of the Air Staff Air Chief Marshal Mujahid Anwar Khan and other military and civilian officials, including cabinet members.
Qureshi summons emergency meeting
Earlier on Tuesday morning, Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi had summoned an emergency meeting at the Foreign Office in Islamabad to discuss the security situation with former secretaries and senior ambassadors, according to Radio Pakistan.
During the meeting, Qureshi said that Pakistan desires peace but India is deteriorating the regional situation, adding that Pakistan was moving forward while demonstrating the behaviour of a responsible state.
The foreign minister added that India is bent on disturbing peace in the region, and that the entire region stands with the Pakistan Army.
In a statement following the LoC violation, Qureshi had warned India not to challenge Pakistan and said that better sense should prevail in Delhi, Radio Pakistan reported.
He said that Pakistan reserves the right to deliver an appropriate response and the right to self-defence.
The foreign minister said the nation should not be worried over the Indian act as the defenders of the country are fully prepared to respond to any misadventure.
Meanwhile, India's Cabinet Committee on Security met at Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s residence in Delhi, after which the country's foreign secretary issued a statement, claiming — without providing any evidence — that the Indian air force had "struck the biggest training camp of Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) in Balakot".
Early on Tuesday, the Director General Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) Maj Gen Asif Ghafoor confirmed that the IAF had "violated the LoC". He said that as Indian planes had intruded from Muzaffarabad, the Pakistan Air Force "immediately scrambled".
"Indian aircrafts' intrusion across LoC in Muzafarabad sector within Azad Jammu and Kashmir was three to four miles.Under forced hasty withdrawal, aircrafts released payload which had free fall in open area. No infrastructure got hit, no casualties," he added.