Tensions seem to be subsiding on the Line of Control between Pakistan and India in Kashmir, both armies reported on March 3rd.
Indian security forces said they were carrying out mjor anti-militancy operations on their side of Kashmir and had shot dead two militants.
“By and large the LoC was calm last night but you never know when it will become active again,” said Chaudhry Tariq Farooq, a minister in Pakistani Kashmir. “Tension still prevails.“
The US Embassy in Islamabad, Pakistan said that it was looking into reports that the Pakistani Air Force used US-built F-16 to down the Indian Air Force’s fighter jet. That would be a violation of Washington’s military sales agreements, which limit how Pakistan can use the fighter jets.
“We are aware of these reports and are seeking more information,” an embassy spokesperson said. “We take all allegations of misuse of defence articles very seriously.“
Pakistan denied using US F-16 in the incident. In contrast, Indian Air Chief Marshal BS Dhanoa was cited to have said “We have got pieces of [Pakistan’s] F-16 which we have shown.”
On March 4th he also asked “If we had dropped bombs in the jungle, why would they respond,” when asked about the effectiveness of IAF’s air strike against JeM’s alleged Balakot terror camp.
He was also asked why MiG-21 Bison was used against Pakistan’s F-16, Air Chief Marshal Dhanoa said that “MiG-21 Bison is capable, it has been upgraded, it has a better weapons system and a better radar. It is an upgraded aircraft.”
Earlier, on February 28th, Indian officials displayed to reporters parts of what they called an air-to-air missile that can only be fired from F-16 jets, alleging they were used to bomb its side of the disputed Kashmir border on the previous day.
However, in India there are concerns that the IAF’s air strike on a forest near the city of Balakot did not target militants and was simply used as a way to politicize terror.
Indian Union Minister SS Ahluwalia said that the aim of the airstrike was to send out a message that India is capable of hitting deep inside enemy lines and did not intend to inflict “any human casualty.”
Ahluwalia said neither Prime Minister Narendra Modi nor any government spokesperson had given any figure on casualty of the IAF air strikes.
“I have seen reports in Indian media and international media and also what Modi ji had said. After the air strike, there was a rally by Modi ji and he didn’t say anything on the casualty figures. I want to ask if Modi ji, or any government spokesperson, or our party president Amit Shah has given any figures?” Mr Ahluwalia told reporters.
The minister of state for electronics and information technology said the intention of the strike was to send out a message that India is capable of destruction in Pakistan’s own backyard if needed. “We didn’t want any human casualty.”
Minister of State in Modi's cabinet, SS Ahluwalia is saying @narendramodi or @AmitShah never claimed that our #AirStrikes killed 300+ Terrorists & we didnt want any "Human Casualties". Is the Govt now backtracking from its claims that they took out a Terrorist Camp in Pakistan? pic.twitter.com/nstgsWF6sZ
— CPI (M) (@cpimspeak) March 2, 2019
“I was asked whether I stand by the government’s statement or by the reports of Indian media which have said 300-350 terrorists were killed. I stand by the government’s statement. How can I vouch for media reports?” he said.
Meanwhile, BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party, the ruling party in India) President Amit Shah declared that “more than 250” terrorists were killed in the airstrike.
“After Uri, our forces went into Pakistan and carried out surgical strikes. They avenged the death of our soldiers. After Pulwama, everyone thought there could be no surgical strikes, what will happen? But under (Prime Minister Narendra) Modi’s leadership, the government carried out an air strike after the 13th day and killed more than 250 terrorists,” Shah said.
News agency ANI reported that at another event in Surat, Amit Shah also said: “Earlier our jawans used to be beheaded and insulted but today, situation is such that when our jawan fell in Pakistan while shooting down an F-16, within 24 hours he was back. This change is because of Narendra Modi’s will power.”
However, questions whether the airstrike and the incident was used as part of a political campaign were raised:
AVM RGK Kapoor said "it would be premature to say that what is the number of casualties that we have been able to inflict on those camps and what is the number of deaths," BUT @AmitShah says over 250 Terrorists killed in airstrike. Is this not milking Air Strikes for Politics????
— Manish Tewari (@ManishTewari) March 4, 2019
Former Union Minister Kapil Sibal also criticized current Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi:
Is international media :
1) New York Times
2) London based Jane's Information Group
3) Washinton Post
4) Daily Telegraph
5) The Guardian
reporting no proof of militant losses at Balakot pro-Pakistan ?
You are guilty of politicising terror ?
— Kapil Sibal (@KapilSibal) March 4, 2019
Referring to different international media houses, Sibal asked if they were “pro-Pakistan.”
“When international media speaks against Pakistan,you feel elated. When they ask questions, it’s asking because it supports Pakistan?” he asked.
Punjab minister Navjot Singh Sidhu also raised questions over the air strike asking if it was an “election gimmick?”
300 terrorist dead, Yes or No?
What was the purpose then? Were you uprooting terrorist or trees? Was it an election gimmick?
Deceit possesses our land in guise of fighting a foreign enemy.
Stop politicising the army, it is as sacred as the state.
ऊंची दुकान फीका पकवान| pic.twitter.com/HiPILADIuW
— Navjot Singh Sidhu (@sherryontopp) March 4, 2019
Despite that, tensions appear to be subsiding. There were some ceasefire violations around 3,00 AM local time on March 4th reportedly from Pakistan’s side which received a response from the Indian side. Firing stopped at 6:30 AM.
Separately, the “Handwara encounter” ended on March 3rd after a three-day standoff in the Babagund village in Handwara, district Kupwara.
The two terrorists that engaged Indian security forces were killed. However, in the three-day gunfight 8 buildings were damaged and 5 security force members – 3 CRPF men and 2 J&K policemen – were killed in the clash. 1 Civilian was also killed, with the total death toll reaching 8.
“This operation posed considerable difficulties for the security forces due to the topography of the area. The area where the militants were hiding was very congested and civilians in adjoining houses had to be evacuated to safer places away from the site of the encounter,” a police spokesman was cited.
He added that the bodies of the terrorists were recovered from the site of the gunfight. “Their identities and affiliations are being ascertained,” he said. “Incriminating material, including arms and ammunition, were recovered from the site of the gunfight,” the spokesperson said.
The police said on March 3rd the two militants were affiliated to the Lashkar-e-Taiba.
“Both the #terrorists killed were affiliated with proscribed terror outfit #LeT. One has been identified as #foreigner from #Pakistan. Identity of the other is being ascertained,” the police wrote on Twitter.
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