India-Pak Standoff: All Signs Suggest That New Delhi Wants To De-Escalate

Despite confirming that the Pakistani Air Force targeted Indian military establishments, India has not called it an act of war.

New Delhi: With tensions boiling over the past two days, India is now clearly signalling that it won’t take any further military steps for now.

India handing over a dossier on Jaish-e-Mohammad JeM to Pakistan on Wednesday night and the refusal to brand an attack on military targets as an ‘act of war’ are important markers that New Delhi wants to de-escalate the situation.

The dossier was handed over to the Pakistani deputy high commissioner along with the demarche on Pakistan incursions through airstrikes on Wednesday. As per the MEA’s press note handed out on Wednesday, the dossier contained “specific details of JeM’s complicity in Pulwama terror attack and the presence of JeM terror camps and its leadership in Pakistan”.

A day later, Indian sources explained that the dossier was provided in response to Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan’s repeated claims since February 14 that Islamabad is ready to conduct an investigation, if given evidence. The Pakistani leader also emphasised in his last address to the nation that India did not provide any information so far, despite several offers.

Also Read: Pakistan to Release IAF Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman Tomorrow

Sources asserted after India handed over the dossier, the ball was in Pakistan’s court.

As India earlier refused to share any information regarding the Pulwama attack with Pakistan, the move to hand over the dossier is a clear indicator that it does not want to escalate.

Before, India stated that sharing any “actionable intelligence” with Pakistan is futile, given the history of Islamabad’s lack of action after 26/11 and Pathankot attack. In a series of diplomatic briefing both in Delhi and in world capitals, foreign countries were also told the same line.

Sources said after Imran Khan’s speech on Wednesday, it is now time for him to walk the talk.

However, after handing over the dossier means, India will have to wait before checking if Pakistan will take any action – even if it considers that to be a futile wait.

Sources noted that India’s demand was for immediate, credible and verifiable action against terrorists, their proxies and dismantling of cross-border terror infrastructure. On Pakistan’s claim that Imran Khan wants to speak over the phone with Narendra Modi, sources said the onus is on Pakistan to create a conducive atmosphere.

Given Pakistan’s history, would India would accept any Pakistan action as credible? Sources said this discussion will only happen later.

Narendra Modi and Imran Khan. Illustration: The Wire

International resonance

India’s position seems to have some resonance internationally. German foreign minister Heiko Maas on Thursday called on both countries to exercise “utmost circumspection”. However, he also told Pakistan that “once evidence is furnished, that those responsible for the terrible attack in Kashmir are held to account and do not walk free”.

The press conference by the three armed forces at Raisina hill was also essentially another signboard that India will “not escalate”.

The Indian government’s first confirmation of the Pakistani airstrike – through a media statement by foreign secretary Vijay Gokhale on Wednesday afternoon – said Pakistan had targeted military installations. Today’s press briefing again underlined that military installations had been targeted, essentially to put a question mark on Pakistani claims.

Air Vice Marshall R.G.K. Kapoor said that at around 10 am on February 27, military radars detected a “large package” of Pakistani aircraft was approaching Indian territory at Jhangar. “They breached the Indian airspace at Rajauri in Sunderbani area,” he said. The Pakistani aircraft numbered over 20.

The senior Air Force officer said the Pakistani planes were intercepted by Indian fighter aircraft “which thwarted their plans”. “Although PAF bombs have fallen in Indian Army Formation compounds, however, they were unable to cause any damage to our Military Installations”.

He claimed that in the aerial combat, one F16 of the PAF was shot down by a MiG21 Bison. This Pakistani plane fell across the Line of Control in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. According to sources, there is visual evidence of the plane falling down from the sky, but not of the debris on the ground.

Meanwhile, one MiG21 of the Indian Air Force was hit. The pilot, Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman, ejected safely, but his parachute drifted into POK. He was taken into custody by the Pakistani army.

The demarche, after the airstrikes, stated that Pakistan acted with aggression against India.

However, at the press conference, when asked if Pakistan’s targeting of Indian military installations amounted to an act of war, the senior air force officer side-stepped the question.

“There is no doubt that Pakistan has attempted to target our military installation. We thwarted them… That is the task of the Indian Air Force, which we have done swiftly and efficiently,” he said.

New Delhi’s message to the international community was that Pakistan is responsible for the escalation, not India. At the joint press conference, Indian army’s Major General Surinder Singh Bahal said there were numerous ceasefire violations at the border.

Also Read: Editorial: India and Pakistan Should De-Escalate Now

However, there were no further details on the damage or casualties caused by India’s airstrikes at Balakot in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. The Indian Air Force officer said the “desired damage” had been achieved.

That initially both the Pakistani army spokesperson and Imran Khan claimed that two Indian jets were downed is being cited by India as an example of Islamabad’s ‘disinformation game’.

Sources said this deliberate ‘disinformation’ has been brought to the attention of the international community, which should discredit Pakistani statements during the ongoing crisis.

During the press conference, the Indian Air Force displayed an advance medium-range air-to-air missile (AMRAAM) missile, which AVM Kapoor said is only carried by an F-16 jet. He added that parts of this missile “were recovered east of Rajouri”. The Pakistan army spokesperson had denied on Wednesday that any F-16 were involved in the airstrikes.

New Delhi’s insistence on demonstrating that an F-16 jet was involved maybe directed at Washington, since F-16 sales to Pakistan are made on the condition that they should be used only in counter-terror operation and not against India.

Military officials display an advance medium-range air-to-air missile (AMRAAM) missile. Credit: PTI

“War hysteria”

Sources claimed that Pakistan has been trying to create “war hysteria”, with statements that Indian missiles were ready to launch on Wednesday night and that the Indian navy was moving towards Karachi.

India’s message to the international community that it was not the party trying to escalate the situation was conveyed in the context of a slew of concerned statements. Countries around the world asked the South Asian neighbours to exercise restraint.

Earlier today, US president Donald Trump said in Vietnam there will be “reasonably attractive news” soon on the India-Pakistan front, indicating that Washington was involved in managing the crisis. Indian sources, however, stated that they were not aware of what Trump was specifically referring too.

The move by three permanent members, the US, UK and France, to list JeM chief Masood Azhar as a UNSC-designated global terrorist, has pleased India. Sources were, however, unaware if China will remove its three-year-old technical hold on the listing.

Sources also added that India was not taking any steps to stop people-to-people contacts, like closing airspace, pausing the Samjhauta Express or suspending talks on the Kartarpur pilgrim corridor initiative.

On Friday, Indian external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj has been invited for the first time to address the OIC plenary session as a ‘guest of honour’. Pakistan objected to India’s presence following the February 26 airstrikes.

The Indian external affairs minister is also scheduled to have a bilateral meeting with the UAE foreign minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan. Earlier today, UAE crown prince Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed bin Sultan Al-Nahyan spoke with the Indian and Pakistani prime ministers, urging them to prioritise dialogue and communication.