How will Pakistan respond to Indian ‘air strikes’?

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The place of Indian targeting in Balakot (Pakistan)

Will Pakistan respond to Indian air strikes? This is not the question that people in Pakistan are asking. They are actually going far more ahead of official Pakistani response that says it will respond “at the time and place of its choosing”. The social media in Pakistan, on Tuesday, was replete with boastful dialogues that people used to instigate retaliation as early as possible.

The masses in general and media in particular in both India and Pakistan have always been vocal in glamourizing nationalist sentiment. If Indian media has gone too far in singing praises of Indian forces in conducting recent strikes, Pakistan media is not too shy in beating the same drum for Pakistani audience. The media exposes what people want to see or listen.

“We will surprise you. Wait for that surprise. Our response will be different. The response will come differently,” these are the words from the spokesperson of Pakistan’s military. Despite the fact that Balakot-the place of Indian targetting is not in Pakistan administered Kashmir, Pakistan Major General Asif Ghafoor insisted that the Indian aircrafts attacked Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK) and not Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province.

However, Maj Gen Ghafoor continued that Pakistan had called a meeting of its National Command Authority, which controls the country’s nuclear arsenal.

In fact, the official version of both countries is not far from what media has projected in the last 24 hours. India said it had killed a large number of militants but Pakistan called the claim “reckless”.

Tensions between the nuclear-armed neighbours have been high following an attack on Indian troops in Kashmir.

The attack was claimed by a group based in Pakistan, Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM), and India had vowed to retaliate.

India accuses Pakistan of allowing militant groups to operate on its territory, something Pakistan denies.

Both India and Pakistan claim all of Muslim-majority Kashmir, but control only parts of it. The two have fought three wars and a limited conflict since independence from Britain in 1947 – and all but one were over Kashmir.

The strikes are the first launched across the line of control – the de facto border that divides India-administered Kashmir from Pakistan-administered Kashmir – since a war between the two countries in 1971.

The two sides have given different versions of events. Indian officials said the strikes hit a camp in Balakot, in north-west Pakistan.

The Pakistani army denied there were any casualties. It said its jets forced Indian planes to withdraw and drop their “payload” in an sparsely inhabited area.

Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said India had “resorted to a self-serving, reckless and fictitious claim”, pointing to elections due in India in May.

A meeting of Pakistan’s National Security Committee, which includes Prime Minister Imran Khan, ended with a warning Pakistan would “respond at the time and place of its choosing”.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi did not directly mention the air strikes when he addressed a political rally in Rajasthan on Tuesday but he told crowds: “I understand your enthusiasm and your energy. Today is a day we bow before our heroes.”

Amid fears of escalation, the European Union urged “maximum restraint” from both sides, with China making a similar plea.

The Indian air strikes that hit a target inside Pakistani territory have taken tensions to a dangerous level.

In September 2016, an attack on an Indian army base in Uri created a similar situation when Delhi decided to respond with so-called “surgical strikes”.

Pakistan’s military has cordoned off the area and not even the local police are allowed in, so it will be some time before details of the attack become known.

Also, Pakistani officials have been underplaying the severity of the incident by describing it as a strike “across the LoC”, not one across the international border.

Pakistan has vowed to respond but this may not go beyond diplomatic measures. However, as some observers point out, there may be punitive attacks by militants against Indian forces in Kashmir “at an appropriate time”.

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