New Delhi: Around 12 days after India conducted airstrikes against a Jaish-e-Mohammed facility in Pakistan and the latter retaliated, the high commissioners of both countries have returned to their duties.
An hour before midnight on March 8, Indian external affairs ministry spokesperson Raveesh Kumar announced on Friday that Indian high commissioner, Ajay Bisaria was “returning to Islamabad after having completed his consultations in India”.
“He will reach Islamabad on 9 March 2019 and resume his duties,” he added.
India’s announcement came three days after Pakistan foreign office announced that Pakistani envoy Sohail Mehmood would be returning to New Delhi soon.
Earlier on March 8, Pakistan foreign office indicated that Mehmood would be back in the Indian capital on Saturday. Dawn reported that a foreign office statement stated that Mahmood met and “Prime Minister Khan’s advice on Pak-India relations before he returned to his post in New Delhi”.
Bisaria was the first one to return and take up his post in Islamabad on Saturday. Taking the same, but opposite route, Mehmood began his travels in the afternoon.
When asked whether the return of the Indian envoy was a sign of de-escalation, Kumar said that there had “no escalation from our side”.
“Our strike was not a military operaiton, but a counter terrorism ooperation against JeM…On the contrary, the escalation has been done by Pakistan,” he said.
Bisaria had been called back for “consultation” a day after the Pulwama attack where a suicide bomber had attacked a convoy of security personnel and killed over 40 on February 16. Pakistan-based terror group Jaish-e-Mahmood had claimed responsibility, with a video of the suicide bomber also emerging in which he claims to be a member of JeM.
About ten days later, India send war planes on a “non-military pre-emptive” mission to bomb a JeM facility in Balakote in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Indian foreign secretary Vijay Gokhale had claimed on February 26 that a “very large number of JeM terrorists, trainers, senior commanders and groups of jihadis” had been killed. When asked about Indian leaders claiming that 250 were killed, Indian government officials point to the Indian government’s February 26 statement as the official position.
Pakistan had admitted to the incursion by Indian war planes, but denied that there had been any damage. It took media to view the bomb craters on the mountain-side, but did not allow for any journalists to visit the JeM ‘school’ located on a higher ground.
A day later, Pakistani planes entered Indian air space and bombed some empty fields. India however asserted that Pakistani bombs had dropped in an Indian army compound in Kashmir. More worryingly, an Indian air force officer, Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman was captured by Pakistani army after he ejected from his plane.
There were more conflicting claims. Pakistan claimed that two MiGs were brought down, but later changed it to one. India stated that an F-16 jet was seen to have fallen from the sky, but no debris has been found so far. At a media briefing, Indian Air Force showed fragments of a missile which it said can only be carried by an F-16 plane.
Meanwhile, the international community had also been lobbied by both countries. Most statements from major capitals condemned the terror attack, but also expressed concern at the airstrikes and called for dialogue.
The de-escalation started with India handing a demarche to Pakistan on February 28. The language denouncing the Pakistani airstrike was harsh, but the demarche was also accompanied by a dossier.
After Pulwama, India had not provided any information on the links between the attack and JeM to Pakistan. New Delhi’s argument was to point at Islamabad’s delay in prosecuting masterminds of terror attacks at Mumbai and Pathankot, even when access and evidence was provided.
Therefore, the handing over the dossier was certainly a sign that India was now willing to give some more time to Islamabad. So far, Pakistan has not officially responded to the dossier.
On February 29, the Indian Air Force officer returned to India to a hero’s welcome.
Earlier this week, Pakistan announced that it had begun a crackdown on proscribed groups, but New Delhi remains sceptical about Pakistani sincerity.
Next week, there will be two important markers on India-Pakistan relations. China or some other member of UN Security Council has till March 13 to file an objection to the renewed move by France, US and UK to list JeM chief to be designated as a global terrorist and sanctioned by UN.
Indian and Pakistani officials will also be meeting for the first time bilaterally to discuss the operationalisation Kartarpur corridor project on March 14.