New Delhi: Pakistan did not shoot down any of the intruding Indian aircraft involved in Tuesday morning’s air strike on a Jaish-e-Muhammad target in Balakot because they didn’t remain in Pakistani air space long enough, army spokesperson Major General Asif Ghafoor said on Tuesday, adding that Islamabad would “surprise” the Indian side with its military response.
In a press conference called to challenge Indian claims of having caused major casualties at a terrorist training camp in Balakot, Major General Ghafoor provided a glimpse into India’s tactics, noting that the IAF had approached two different sectors, prompting the scrambling of combat air patrols, before sending a “heavier” detachment of jets through Keran valley across the LoC near Muzaffarabad.
In the morning, Major General Ghafoor tweeted that the Indian intrusion was made within Pakistan-occupied Kashmir:
Indian aircrafts’ intrusion across LOC in Muzafarabad Sector within AJ&K was 3-4 miles.Under forced hasty withdrawal aircrafts released payload which had free fall in open area. No infrastructure got hit, no casualties. Technical details and other important information to follow.
— Maj Gen Asif Ghafoor (@OfficialDGISPR) February 26, 2019
Later, a press release issued after the meeting of the National Security Council “strongly rejected the claim of targeting an alleged terrorist camp near Balakot and the claim of heavy casualties”.
However, Ghafoor in the evening stated that the Indian planes had “jettisoned” their payload at Jabba in Balakot.
At the end of the day, Pakistan’s stance was that Indian planes may have dropped bombs, but had not damaged any terror camp in Balakot – as there were none there. They asserted that they intruded about seven to eight nautical miles inside Pakistan for about four minutes.
“At that time this started, our entire air force was not airborne as per war methodology,” said director general, Inter-Services Public Relations, Major General Ghafoor at a press conference in Islamabad on Tuesday evening, during which there were questions on why Indian planes were not hit during the intrusion.
His media briefing took place more than six hours after Indian foreign secretary Vijay Gokhale officially claimed to have conducted air strikes on a camp of Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) in Khyber Pakhtunwa’s Balakot. The terror group JeM had claimed responsibility for the February 14 attack on Indian security personnel which left over 40 dead in Pulwama.
He said that all of Pakistan’s safeguards on land were robust. “So if they had tried an on-ground incursion, they would have been met with the response that we had planned”.
Earlier, during a separate press conference, Pakistan’s defence minister Pervez Khattak said they were “ready” for Indian aircraft. His cabinet colleague, foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi asserted that Indian planes left within three minutes of the intrusion. “I don’t want to go into details here, but the timely action of Pakistan air force stopped them,” he said.
Within an hour, the Pakistani army had convened a press conference complete with slides.
The senior Pakistani army officer said that ever since the Pulwama terror attack, both countries had been conducting “combat air patrols (CAP).” “There are always one or two CAPs in the air, in rotation. This was the same last night”.
Ghafoor said the first “visibility” of Indian jets was observed near the Sialkot border.
“They were seen approaching the Lahore-Sialkot border. Our combat air patrol (CAP) team, in central position approached and challenged them. They did not cross. They were within seven to eight nautical miles (of their side), but our CAP team went and challenged”.
As per the standard operating procedure, when the first team is “committed” to be involved in an operation, then another standby team is sent for CAP automatically. “Another of India’s formation was picked in Bahawalpur sector. The standby team went down south and challenged it”.
Meanwhile, a “heavier” Indian formation was seen approaching the Muzaffarabad sector from Keran valley. “When our third CAP team challenged them, they had crossed the Line of Control,” he said.
The entire process of Indian planes “approaching the border, their challenge and their return took four minutes”.
“They entered from Kashmir’s Tangdhar. Their formation came about four to five nautical miles inside when 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 Jabba and they went back,” said the Pakistan army spokesperson.
He said that ground troops went to inspect the location and found that only four to five houses sustained damage.
He claimed that one of the reasons for not downing Indian planes was there was no engagement and that India was more interested in making a “dry run”.
In his statement, the Indian foreign secretary stated that India had chosen the target of the Jaish camp in a remote forest in order to minimise civilian casualties.
However, Ghafoor claimed that India was actually trying to avoid military installations, only because it wanted to be able to claim to have hit a training facility of JeM.
“Had they struck the military last night, then uniformed personnel would have been martyred 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,” argued the Pakistani army officer.
He dismissed claims being made by the Indian media that 300-400 terrorists had been killed.
“I called you so I could take you there and show you the on-ground reality but, unfortunately, I cannot take you by air due to rough weather. But the local media is there and have shown that there was not even a single brick out there [at the bombed-out site],” said Ghafoor.
He added that Google Earth satellite imagery – which was updated about a week ago – would show that there was no building at the site.
Despite claiming that India did not hit any targets in Pakistan as claimed by New Delhi, he said the Pakistani army will give a surprise response.
“I said that we will surprise you. Wait for that surprise. I said that our response will be different. The response will come differently. We are a democracy. You have proved that you are not a democracy. You have chosen a path of war without knowing the consequence for the peace and stability of the region,” he said.
Referring to the decisions of the National Security Council, he noted that the Pakistani parliament and National Command Authority will convene over the Indian intrusion.
“Tomorrow, our National Command Authority will meet. I hope you understanding what this means,” said Ghafoor, playing the nuclear card.