From aggression to denial, Pak sends confused signals after IAF air strikes

By Smita Sharma
“Indian Air Force violated Line of Control. Pakistan Air Force immediately scrambled. Indian aircrafts gone back. Details to follow,” tweeted the Pakistani army spokesperson Major General Asif Ghafoor this morning at 5.12 am.
This tweet alerted media and the strategic community on both sides of the Line of Control about the big early morning development on Tuesday less than a fortnight since the horrific killing of 40 CRPF jawans in the Pulwama terror strike. Within a few hours Ghafoor in a series of tweets claimed, “Indian aircrafts’ intrusion across LOC in Muzafarabad Sector within AJ&K was 3-4 miles. Under forced hasty withdrawal aircrafts released payload which had free fall in open area. No infrastructure got hit, no casualties. Technical details and other important information to follow.”
He also tweeted photographs supposedly of ‘Payload of hastily escaping Indian aircrafts that fell in the open’. But as details emerged from New Delhi claiming a major ‘non-military pre-emptive’ Indian Air Force early morning strike at the biggest Jaish-e-Mohammad camp in Balakot in KPK (Khyber Pakhtwukhwa province), well inside Pakistani territory, the Pakistani army, establishment and government huddled into series of high-profile security meetings.
Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi in a statement to local media called it an act of ‘grave aggression’ by India that would be given a ‘befitting response’ adding that ‘Pakistan has a right to self-defence’.
However, soon after the national security committee special meeting convened by Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan, the tone and tenor was different with the Indian claims called as fictitious made with an eye on upcoming general elections in the country.
“Forum strongly rejected Indian claim of targeting an alleged terrorist camp near Balakot and the claim of heavy casualties. 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,” said a statement released by the Pakistani Prime Minister’s Office.
In a deja vu of the statements from Pakistan post the Indian surgical strikes in 2016, Islamabad chose to opt for deniability of the current IAF strike. “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,” added the statement, raising questions about why talk of a befitting response if the Indian claims are fictitious.
Deniability from Pakistan is being seen as sign of immediate or knee-jerk escalation as possibly not being considered with global players asking for restraint to be exercised between the two nuclear neighbors. Also, Pakistan’s constant denial of terror pads operating from its soil means any admission of their destruction is not an option.
Sources told The Tribune that at the all party meeting briefing this evening, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj told leaders that “Pakistan is confused about how to respond”.
Meanwhile, Imran Khan has called for a special joint session of the Parliament on February 27 even as both sides stepped up their diplomatic offensive. The acting Indian High Commissioner in Islamabad was also summoned by the acting Pakistani Foreign Secretary today. — Courtesy: The Tribune

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