India strikes across LoC

Non-military, pre-emptive action had become absolutely necessary, says foreign secretary | PM chairs CCS meet, says won’t let country down

India struck a biggest camp of Jaish-e-Mohammed across the Line of Control early Tuesday in a major “non-military, preemptive” action, killing “a large number of militants and trainers of the Pakistan-based group” that was preparing to carry out suicide attacks in this country, a top official said.

Giving details of the “intelligence led operation” at a news conference here, foreign secretary Vijay Gokhale said credible intelligence was received that the JeM was planning to carry out other suicide attacks in India after the Pulwama bombing on a CRPF convoy 12 days ago that killed 40 personnel.

“In the face of imminent danger, a preemptive strike became absolutely necessary. In an intelligence-led operation in the early hours of Tuesday, India struck the biggest training camp of JeM in Balakot,” Gokhale said.

“In this operation, a very large number of JeM militants, trainers, senior commanders and groups of jihadis who were being trained for fidayeen action were eliminated,” he said.

Junior agriculture minister Gajendra Singh Shekhawat also tweeted about the strike. “Air Force carried out aerial strike early morning today at terror camps across the LoC and completely destroyed it (sic),” he said.

It was not clear if the strikes were on Balakote in Pakistan-administered Kashmir or Balakot in Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.

Gokhale also did not give details of how the attacks were carried out or confirm earlier reports by sources that Mirage aircraft were used to drop bombs in the operation.

Earlier in the day, the Indian government sources said Mirage 2000 combat jets of the Indian Air Force (IAF) bombed militant camps at multiple locations across the Line of Control (LoC) in the Pakistani side. They said jets pounded the camps in Balakot, Muzaffarabad and Chakoti.

Pakistan foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said India has committed “aggression” by violating the Line of Control (LoC) and Islamabad has “right to respond”.

The facility at Balakot, located in a thick forest on a hilltop far away from civilian presence, was headed by Maulana Yousuf Azhar, alias Ustad Ghouri, the brother-in-law of JeM chief Masood Azhar, Gokhale said, reading out from a statement.

The statement did not say if Yousuf Azhar was among those killed.

Gokhale said India is firmly committed towards taking all measures to fight terrorism.

India, Gokhale said, expects Pakistan to “dismantle all terror camps, including those of the JeM”.

Hours after the strike, Prime Minister Narendra Modi chaired a meeting of cabinet committee on security (CCS) which was attended by finance minister Arun Jaitley, external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj, home minister Rajnath Singh and defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman.

The pre-emptive strikes were hailed by leaders of various political parties with the BJP asserting that Prime Minister Modi’s political will has made the difference while Congress chief Rahul Gandhi lauded the IAF and saluted its pilots.

“Every Indian who had the pain and anguish of the martyrdom of our forces is greatly relieved and delighted this morning. Salute to the Air Force for a meticulous operation. Our forces are world class anyway. It is the political will of our PM and team that made all the difference,” BJP general secretary Ram Madhav said.

National Conference leader Omar Abdullah said the strikes carried out by the IAF on JeM camps is a “totally new ball game” as it was for the first time that air power was used during peace time to hit militant targets in the neighbouring country.

In Islamabad, Qureshi briefed Prime Minister Imran Khan after an “emergency meeting” with high-level officials at the foreign office (FO) for consultations.

“First, they committed aggression against Pakistan today. It is a violation of the LoC. I consider it a violation of the LoC, and Pakistan his right to give a suitable response in self defence,” he told reporters.

Earlier, the Pakistan army alleged that the IAF violated the LoC in Muzafarabad.

“Indian aircraft intruded from Muzafarabad sector. Facing timely and effective response from Pakistan Air Force released payload in haste while escaping which fell near Balakot. No casualties or damage,” major general Asif Ghafoor, director general of Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR), the media wing of the Pakistan army, said in a tweet.

“Indian Air Force violated Line of Control Pakistan. Pakistan Air Force immediately scrambled. Indian aircraft gone back,” he tweeted.

Hours after the strike, the Indian army tweeted a Hindi poem which says that “if you are docile and polite before the enemy, he may consider you as a coward, the way Kauravas treated Pandavas”.

The poem by Hindi poet Ramdhari Singh ‘Dinkar’ was tweeted by additional director general, Public Information on its official handle.

Peace overtures, the poem says, are possible only when you are in a powerful position and capable to win.

INDIA IN SAFE HANDS: PM

Prime Minister Narendra Modi Tuesday told the nation that the country is in safe hands and he will never let the country down.

Speaking publicly for the first time after New Delhi said the Indian Air Force (IAF) hit Jaish-e-Mohammed training camps in Pakistan, Modi was in an exuberant mood as he addressed a public rally in Rajasthan.

“Today is a historic day and I feel that a few lines of a poem which I recited in Vijay Shankh Yuva Sangam in 2014 should be repeated,” he said as the crowds kept cheering and waving at him.

“From the land of Churu, I repeat these lines while offering my prayers to Maa Bharati,” he said.

Looking at the excited faces in the crowd who were clearly happy that the JeM bases in Pakistan had been hit earlier in the day, Modi wondered why people were looking different today.

The crowd immediately started raising slogans of “Modi, Modi”.

The Prime Minister, who made no specific mention of Pakistan or JeM, asked the people to shout “Bharat Mata ki Jai” and the crowd did so.

Earlier, Modi started his address in Rajasthani dialect and said that today was a historic day and hence “we should all bow our heads to the soldiers”.

“After 70 years of independence, we have dedicated a national war memorial to those who sacrificed their lives for the nation. This memorial is quite important for Rajasthan as this state has sacrificed thousands of their sons from Charu, Sikar and Jhunjhunu,” he said.

Attacking the opposition, Modi said: “Your one vote will give a befitting reply to those dreaming of forming a weak government and will also strengthen my government”.