‘Get ready for our surprise’: Pakistan warns India it will respond to airstrikes

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “‘Get ready for our surprise’: Pakistan warns India it will respond to airstrikes” was written by Michael Safi in Delhi, Mehreen Zahra-Malik in Islamabad and Azhar Farooq in Srinagar, for The Guardian on Wednesday 27th February 2019 06.09 Asia/Kolkata

Pakistan’s army has warned it will respond to India’s aerial bombing over the disputed border in Kashmir, telling Delhi: “It is your turn now to wait and get ready for our surprise.”

Pakistan’s foreign ministry has summoned India’s top diplomat in Islamabad to protest against the pre-dawn airstrike on what India called a terrorist training camp, while India has accused Islamabad of shelling the disputed region in an “unprovoked” violation of the 2003 ceasefire.

Tensions between the nuclear-armed neighbours have escalated in recent weeks with the killing of 40 Indian security personnel in a suicide bombing, and now Tuesday’s airstrike – the first such attack by India since it went to war with Pakistan in 1971.

India’s foreign secretary, Vijay Gokhale, called the attack “a pre-emptive strike” after receiving credible intelligence that the militant group Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM), which was behind the recent suicide bombing, was training fighters for similar attacks at the site.

Imran Khan, the Pakistani prime minister, said India’s claim that it had hit a terrorist training camp at Balakot was “a self-serving, reckless and fictitious claim”.

“This action has been done for domestic consumption in the election environment, putting regional peace and stability at grave risk,” Khan said, referring to India’s general election which starts in two months.

Pakistan’s armed forces spokesman, Maj-Gen Asif Ghafoor,said a joint session of Pakistan’s parliament would be held on Wednesday, followed by a meeting of the National Command Authority, whose responsibilities include overseeing the country’s nuclear arsenal.

The attack was celebrated in India, but it was unclear on Tuesday whether anything significant had been struck by the fighter jets, or whether the operation had been carefully calibrated to ease popular anger over the 14 February suicide bombing without drawing a major Pakistani reprisal.

Pakistan, which was the first to announce the incursion, said the war planes made it up to five miles inside its territory before they were rebuffed, dropping their payloads without casualties or damage.

Ghafoor, tweeted on Tuesday morning that the Indian jets had dropped their bombs in an empty forested area. “No infrastructure got hit, no casualties,” he wrote.

Kashmir, a disputed region in the foothills of the Himalayas, has been at the centre of tensions between India and Pakistan since both states came into being in 1947.

Who controls Kashmir?

Both claim it in full, but each controls a section of the territory, separated by one of the most heavily militarised borders in the world: the “line of control” based on a ceasefire border established after a 1947-48 war over the region. China controls another part in the east.

India and Pakistan have gone to war three times over Kashmir, most recently in 1999. Artillery, mortar and small arms fire is still frequently exchanged over the ceasefire line.

How did the dispute start?

The roots of the conflict date back to the weeks after the partition of colonial India 71 years ago. Small, semi-autonomous “princely states” across the subcontinent were being folded into either India or Pakistan. The ruler of Kashmir dithered over which to join – until tribal fighters poured in from Pakistan, intent on winning the region for Islamabad.

Kashmir turned to Delhi for assistance, signing a treaty of accession with India in exchange for the intervention of Indian troops, who fought the Pakistanis to the modern-day line of control.

In 1948, the UN security council issued Resolution 47 calling for a referendum among Kashmiris to determine which country the region would join, or whether it would become an independent state. That referendum has never been held.

In its 1950 constitution, India granted Kashmir a large measure of independence. But, in the years since, it has eroded some of that autonomy and repeatedly intervened to rig elections and dismiss and jail democratically elected leaders.

What do the militants want?

For the past three decades, Indian-controlled Kashmir has been roiled by an armed insurgency against its rule. Indian soldiers and Pakistan-backed guerillas fought a dirty war replete with accusations of torture, forced disappearances and extra-judicial killing.

Until 2004, the militancy was made up largely of Pakistani and Afghan fighters. But since then, especially after massive popular protests were put down with extreme force in 2016, locals have made up a growing share of the anti-India fighters.

For Indians, control of Kashmir — part of the country’s only Muslim-majority state — has been proof of its commitment to religious pluralism. For Pakistan, a state founded as a homeland for south Asian Muslims, Kashmir is the last occupied home of its co-religionists. Michael Safi

Tuesday’s attacks followed nearly a fortnight of sabre-rattling between the pair over the southern Kashmir suicide bombing, in which India has claimed Pakistan had a “direct hand”. JeM is based in Pakistan but Islamabad has rejected any responsibility for the attack.


Gokhale said Indian jets struck JeM’s largest training camp in the Balakot area, claiming a “very large number of JeM terrorists, trainers, senior commanders and groups of jihadis being trained for fidayeen [suicide] action were eliminated.” The facility, which he described as being in thick forest on a hilltop, was far away from any civilian settlements,overseen by the brother-in-law of the JeM chief, Masood Azhar, he added.

Significantly, Balakot is in the province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, about 50 miles from the line of control and well into accepted Pakistan territory. An attack there would represent an escalation from previous Indian reprisals.

“It changes the game significantly by raising the costs for Pakistan,” said Khalid Shah, a research fellow at the Delhi-based Observer Research Foundation.

Islamabad released pictures on social media showing uprooted trees and cratered soil, which it claimed was the extent of the damage from the Indian bombing.

Local media in Pakistan as well as Reuters quoted residents of Balakot who said they heard four to five blasts overnight which damaged homes and left large pockmarks in the ground.

A photograph released by Pakistan of what it says was damage caused by bombing in Balakot
A photograph released by Pakistan of what it says was damage caused by bombing in Balakot.
Photograph: AFP/Getty Images

The conflicting narratives over the attack echo India’s claims in September 2016 it sent special forces to destroy militant facilities over the ceasefire border – an attack that Pakistan still maintains never happened.

The opposing positions allowed India to trumpet its reprisal against Pakistan without forcing Islamabad to respond in a way that might spiral into a larger conflict.

Indian ministers lauded the airstrikes. “It was an act of extreme valour,” said Prakash Javadekar, the human resources development minister, in the first official acknowledgement of the operation.

Another minister, Vijay Kumar Singh, posted a picture on Twitter of an eagle with a snake in its talons. “They say they want to bleed India with 1,000 cuts,” he wrote. “We say that each time you attack us, be certain we will get back at you, harder and stronger.”

Despite Pakistan downplaying the impact of the attacks, Khan, whose successful election campaign last year featured strident promises to stand up to India, could still face popular pressure to respond.

“Strategically, it is a disaster for Pakistan that India can keep doing this,” said Mosharraf Zaidi, a political analyst and columnist, referring to both Tuesday’s attack and the September 2016 strikes. “What does it say about Pakistan’s red lines that countries like India can keep violating our airspace or claim they have carried out surgical strikes?”

Sherry Rahman, a Pakistani senator and former ambassador the US, said the attack was aimed at Indian PM Narendra Modi’s re-election. “India is giving its own people a message with these strikes; this is for their electorate, the domestic voters.”

A detail of wreckage at the scene, released by Pakistan.
A detail of wreckage at the scene, released by Pakistan.
Photograph: AFP/Getty Images

While exchanges of artillery and light weapons over the line are very common, intentional incursions by aircraft have not been publicly acknowledged since the two countries fought a war in 1971.

Military planes could be heard over Srinagar, the capital of Indian-controlled Kashmir, in the early hours of Tuesday morning. There has been a large troop buildup in the region in recent days and doctors have been advised to cancel leave and stockpile medicines.

Several convoys of trucks carrying heavy artillery were being transported on highways to northern Kashmir towards the line of control. Both India and Pakistan were trading heavy mortar fire across the ceasefire line on Tuesday night.

More than 300 Kashmiri separatist activists have been detained in recent days. Hours after the attack on Tuesday morning, officers from the National Investigation Agency raided the Srinagar homes of two veteran separatist leaders, Yasin Malik, who was among those detained at the weekend, and Mirwaiz Umar Farooq.

Associated Press contributed to this report

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'Get ready for our surprise': Pakistan warns India it will respond to airstrikes | NORTH INDIA KALEIDOSCOPE

Rajesh Ahuja

I am a veteran journalist based in Chandigarh India.I joined the profession in June 1982 and worked as a Staff Reporter with the National Herald at Delhi till June 1986. I joined The Hindu at Delhi in 1986 as a Staff Reporter and was promoted as Special Correspondent in 1993 and transferred to Chandigarh. I left The Hindu in September 2012 and launched my own newspaper ventures including this news portal and a weekly newspaper NORTH INDIA KALEIDOSCOPE (currently temporarily suspended).