Pakistan’s military spokesman says that Indian military aircraft crossed into its territory in the disputed Kashmir region and that Indian jets “released a payload” hastily in a forest area.

This handout photograph released by Pakistan's Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR) on February 26, 2019 shows a view of damage caused to trees in the hilly terrain after the Indian air force dropped their payload in the Balakote area.
This handout photograph released by Pakistan's Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR) on February 26, 2019 shows a view of damage caused to trees in the hilly terrain after the Indian air force dropped their payload in the Balakote area. (AFP)

Indian claimed its jets crossed into Pakistani territory on Tuesday, conducting what one minister said was an air strike on a “terror camp”, dramatically escalating tensions between the nuclear-armed neighbours who have fought three wars against each other. 

The confrontation follows a growing rift between the arch-foes since a Feb. 14 suicide bombing in the disputed Kashmir region, claimed by a Pakistani-based militant group, killed at least 40 Indian paramilitary police. 

New Delhi blamed Islamabad, which denies having a role in the attack.

Indian Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale said an air strike on a militant camp killed “a very large number” of fighters preparing an attack on India.

He told a media briefing that the raid on the Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) camp at Balkot was launched because New Delhi believed suicide attacks in India were “imminent”.

TRT World spoke to New Delhi-based journalist Ishan Russel, who says Indian government was under pressure to act against Pakistan.

Pakistan downplayed Tuesday’s incident, Indian military aircraft crossed into its territory in the disputed Kashmir region and “released a payload” after Pakistan scrambled its own jets, but there was no casualties or damage.

“Indian aircrafts intruded from Muzafarabad sector,” Pakistani military spokesman Major General Asif Ghafoor said on Twitter early on Tuesday, referring to an area in the Pakistan-administered part of Kashmir. 

Ghafoor said “facing timely and effective response from Pakistan Air Force”, the Indian aircraft “released payload in haste while escaping" which fell in a forest near Balakot town.

There were no casualties or damage, he added.

Pakistan rejects claim

Pakistan’s National Security Committee (NSC), comprising top officials including Prime Minister Imran Khan and army chief Qamar Javed Bajwa, said in a statement that it “strongly rejected Indian claim of targeting an alleged terrorist camp near Balakot and the claim of heavy casualties.” 

NSC said Khan will “engage with global leadership to expose irresponsible Indian policy”. It also warned that “Pakistan shall respond at the time and place of its choosing” to Indian aggression.

Pakistani villagers in the area where the Indian jets struck said they heard four loud bangs in the early hours of Tuesday but reported only one person was wounded. 

“We saw fallen trees and one damaged house, and four craters where the bombs had fallen,” said Mohammad Ajmal, a 25-year-old who visited the site. 

Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said on Tuesday that “better sense” should prevail, warning India not to challenge Pakistan.

TRT World spoke to Islamabad-based Kamran Yousaf about possible reaction from Pakistan.

Line of Control (LoC) acts as a de facto border between the two countries, who have fought three wars since their independence from British colonial rule in 1947.

Shelling across the Kashmiri Line of Control has frequently occurred over the last few years, while tensions between the neighbours have been simmering, but airspace violations are rare.

In 2016 as well, following another large attack on Indian security forces in Kashmir, New Delhi said its troops crossed the LoC and carried out a so-called “surgical strike” on suspected militant camps across the border in Pakistan-administered Kashmir. 

Islamabad denied anything occurred.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies