Nuclear-armed neighbours put respective militaries on ‘high alert’ after pre-dawn strike
India claimed its fighter aircraft had successfully launched strikes against a Pakistan-based militant training camp in the disputed Himalayan Kashmirregion before dawn on Tuesday, considerably escalating tension between the nuclear-armed neighbours, The Irish Times reports.
It is the first such cross-border air attack by India since the two sides fought the third of their four wars in 1971 since after independence in 1947.
The attack has also led to the two sides putting their militaries on “high alert” in anticipation of further escalation of hostilities by either side.
Official sources said the attack by 10-12 French Mirage 2000 fighters followed the February 14th suicide car bomb attack that killed some 44 paramilitaries in Indian-administered Kashmir, for which the Pakistan-based Islamist Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) group claimed responsibility.
India also blamed the Pakistan military and its Inter Services Intelligence Directorate for supporting the JeM and for planning the attack on the Indian paramilitaries, for which prime minister Narendra Modi vowed punitive action against Islamabad.
Indian foreign secretary Vijay Gokhale told reporters that the “pre-emptive air strike” across the line of control (LoC) that divides Kashmir between the neighbours, was launched against Pakistan following credible intelligence that the JeM was planning another suicide terror attack in the country.
He claimed that in the intelligence-led operation, India struck the biggest JeM camp in Balakot located in thick forest on a hilltop eliminating a “very large number of terrorists, trainers, senior commanders and jihadis who were being trained for suicide action”, but did not elaborate.
Other than the attack on its paramilitaries earlier this month, India blames the JeM for the strikes on its parliament in 2001 that led to the two sides mobilising their armies for over 10 months.
The Islamist group was also blamed for attacking an army cantonment in Kashmir in 2016 in which 20 soldiers died.
Military sources said the Mirage 2000H aircraft, whichwere escorted by one airborne early warning and control (AEW&C) aircraft and an Ilyushin-78 mid-air tanker, employed 1,000kg precision guided munitions (PGMs) in their strike.
Pakistani military confirmed the Indian air force intrusion , but claimed it had successfully thwarted it by scrambling its own fighters.
“Indian aircraft intruded from Muzaffarabad sector,” Pakistani military spokesman Maj Gen Asif Ghafoor tweeted, referring to the capital of Pakistan-administered Kashmir. He said the “timely and effective response from the Pakistan Air Force led to the Indian aircraft releasing their payload in haste while escaping”. No casualties or damage were reported, he added.
The Indian air force strike across the LoC in Kashmir follows recent warnings to India by Pakistan’s prime minister Imran Khan against initiating any “military adventurism”.
“It easy to start a war, but difficult to control it,” Mr Khan said in response to Mr Modi declaring that India would inflict a “jaw breaking” response from Islamabad for the paramilitary killings. “We will not think of retaliating. We will retaliate,” Mr Khan stated.
The air strike, which took some 10 days of planning by the Indian air force and other security officials is expected to boost Mr Modi’s image in India’s upcoming electionls, scheduled to be completed before end-May, provided there is no Pakistani riposte. At an election rally on Tuesday afternoon Mr Modi declared that India was in “safe hands”.
“The attack is bound to show up Modi as a decisive leader who will not compromise with India’s national security,” said military analyst, retired lieutenant general Vijay Kapur. It would stand him in good stead politically, he added.
India and Pakistan have have fought two of their three wars since independence over Kashmir.
And in 1999, soon after both became nuclear weapon states, their two armies clashed in Kashmir’s Himalayan Kargil region for 11-weeks resulting in 1,200 soldiers dying on both sides. The conflict came close to a nuclear exchange that was prevented by US intervention.