• PAF engages six targets in India-held Kashmir
• Civil, military leadership holds special meeting of National Command Authority
ISLAMABAD: Pakistan has emphasised that it does not want further escalation of tensions with India after the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) engaged six targets in India-held Kashmir and in a separate action downed two intruding Indian fighter jets before arresting one of the pilots.
The intrusion in Pakistani airspace by Indian Air Force (IAF) aircraft happened for a second consecutive day, as one of its planes had to release payloads in Balakot area while being chased away in the early hours of Tuesday morning. The Pakistan military spokesman had then promised “surprise” for India in response to the IAF aggression.
On Wednesday, the IAF jets entered Pakistani airspace after the PAF strikes on the other side of the Line of Control (LoC) from Pakistani airspace for, what the Foreign Office and Army described as, demonstration of Pakistan’s “right, will and capability for self-defence”.
The PAF strikes across the LoC were first announced by FO spokesman Dr Mohammad Faisal through a tweet. “PAF undertook strikes across LoC from Pakistani airspace. Sole purpose of this action was to demonstrate our right, will and capability for self defence. We do not wish to escalate but are fully prepared if forced into that paradigm,” he tweeted.
Shortly afterwards, Pakistan military spokesman Maj Gen Asif Ghafoor announced the shooting down of IAF aircraft. He tweeted, “IAF crossed LoC” after the PAF strikes in India-occupied Kashmir (IOK).
“PAF shot down two Indian aircraft inside Pakistani airspace. One of the aircraft fell inside AJK while other fell inside IOK. One Indian pilot arrested by troops on ground while two in the area,” he stated.
The military spokesman later addressed a press conference at ISPR to give details about the incidents.
“Today morning, Pakistan Air Force engaged six targets at the LoC,” Maj Gen Ghafoor said, adding that it was conscious decision not to attack any military target and also avoid any collateral damage. One of the targets initially picked was a military administrative complex, but PAF command decided against hitting it.
“As a result of engaging our targets, no human life was affected. Staying within our jurisdiction, six targets were locked. And we carried out the strike,” he said.
The purpose of carrying out the strikes “in open space” was to show that we have “the capacity and the will to respond”, but we deliberately avoided the escalation path, he said.
“Pakistan is not pushing for war. We engaged our targets in open air, we deliberately avoided escalation. We could easily have taken the original targets, but we did not do that,” he emphasized.
The spokesman said Pakistan was a responsible country and avoided escalation for the sake of regional peace. “Pakistan has always conveyed the message of peace. The route to peace lies through dialogue. War is the failure of policy which India needs to understand.”
Maj Gen Ghafoor said after Pakistani strikes across LoC, two Indian aircraft violated Pakistani airspace and were engaged by PAF jets. “Both aircraft were shot down, one fell on our side of LoC, while the other fell on the other side,” he maintained. He claimed that two Indian pilots had been taken captive, one of whom was in custody, while the other was in hospital for treatment of his injuries. However, in a later message sent to journalists, the ISPR corrected that only one Indian pilot was in captivity.
The detained IAF pilot was identified as Wing Commander Abhi Nandan. A video clip was also released by the ISPR in which he said that he had been treated well after being taken in custody.
The military spokesman said that as Pakistan has shown its capacity and will to respond to any aggression, it does not want war. He exhorted India to also choose the path of regional peace and stability. Today’s action was in self-defence, he underlined.
Maj Gen Ghafoor reminded the international community of its responsibility to see how it can come forward and how current tension between India and Pakistan is threat to peace and development not only between the two countries, but also to the region and beyond.
Silence after NCA meet
The National Command Authority (NCA) met on Wednesday to review ‘strategic dimension’ of the deepening crisis with India and underscore the value of nuclear deterrence in the bilateral conflict.
Prime Minister Imran Khan chaired the meeting, which was attended by key cabinet ministers, chairman joint chiefs of staff committee, the three services chiefs, and director general Strategic Plans Division. It was the first meeting of NCA that was chaired by Mr Khan after assuming the office of prime minister last year.
A special meeting of the National Security Committee held a day earlier, to review the situation in the aftermath of violation of Pakistani airspace by Indian fighters, had recommended the convening of a session of the NCA, which is the apex body on nuclear decision making.
The NCA met on a day when Pakistan carried out reprisal strikes in India-held Kashmir. The Army said the strikes were carried out by Pakistan Air Force (PAF) in “open space” to demonstrate its “ability and will” to respond to Indian aggression.
No statement was issued after NCA meeting. It was the first occasion since the NCA had been established 19 years ago that no press statement was released at the conclusion of a publicly announced meeting. This implied that the NCA, in view of the gravity of the situation, decided on maintaining ambiguity about the outcome of the meeting.It is believed that the silence after the NCA meeting was also a signal to the Western audience that time is running out for an intervention for de-escalation of the situation.
Published in Dawn, February 28th, 2019