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Pakistan refutes, says ‘we were ready’

Islamabad, Feb 26: Pakistan 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) strikes across the Line of Control (LoC).
India Tuesday said it carried out “non-military, pre-emptive air strikes” across the Line of Control (LoC) in Balakot, in a pre-dawn operation targeting the Pakistan-based militant group Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM).
Qureshi made these remarks at a joint press conference in Islamabad alongside the country’s Finance Minister Asad Umar and Defence Minister Pervez Khattak, Dawn reported.
He, as per Dawn started the press conference by reading out a statement of the National Security Committee (NSC), which was convened by Pakistan 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”.
“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.”
Later in the day, the director general (DG) of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR), Maj Gen Asif Ghafoor, held a press conference.
He debunked the claims made by India that it had “struck the biggest training camp of Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) in Balakot”.
“They are claiming that they remained in the Pakistani airspace for 21 minutes and killed 350 terrorists. They claim that the second strike was in Muzaffarabad and the third in Chakothi. Allah almighty is the greatest and we should not make tall claims, but come and try to spend 21 minutes in Pakistani airspace,” Maj Ghafoor was quoted saying by Dawn.
“Last night, our radars were observing them. They had earlier come closer to our border but did not cross it. Last night, their first visibility was observed near the Sialkot and Lahore border. They were seen approaching the border. Our Combat Air Patrol (CAP) team approached and challenged them. They did not cross.
“As per the SOP (standard operating procedure), when the first team got committed there, the next CAP team automatically was airborne. During this, another one of their formation was picked in Bahawalpur sector. The second standby team went down south and challenged it. We then observed that the more heavier of their teams was approaching Muzaffarabad sector from Kiran Valley. When our third CAP team challenged them, they had crossed the LoC.
“Their approaching of the border, the challenge and their return took four minutes,” said the ISPR DG.
“If they had struck any military position, then an engagement would have happened. But they did not do that because if they had done so, our soldiers were ready.
“Had they struck the military last night, then uniformed personnel would have been slain and it would not have served their purpose.
“They wanted to target a place where civilians could have died, so they could claim that they targeted a terrorist camp. This would have benefited their war mongering and politics. They entered from Kashmir’s Tangdhar — they were timely and effectively challenged, and repulsed by the Air Force. On their way back, they jettisoned their payload. Four of their bombs fell in [Balakot’s] Jabba and they went back.
“The ground troops’ job is to ascertain if anything has fallen or not. When they [Indian aircraft] went back, we checked through our line of communication and found that there were no strikes,” he said.
Meanwhile, Pakistan Prime Minister, Imran Khan asked 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,” Dawn reported.
Imran also “appreciated timely and effective response of the Pakistan Air Force to repulse Indian attempt without any loss of life or property”.
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 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, Pakistan foreign minister 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.” (Agencies)