ISLAMABAD – Pakistan denied on Tuesday claims that Indian jets bombed a militant camp and killed a large number of militants inside Pakistan in a pre-dawn airstrike amid rising diplomatic and military tension between the two nuclear powers.
In a statement released after a meeting with National Security Council, Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan’s office, however, admitted that Indian fighter jets had violated the airspace and vowed that Pakistan’s armed forces would retaliate to Indian aggression.
The claims and counter-claims from the South Asian rivals come amid rising tensions between the two countries after a suicide attack on Feb. 24 killed at least 42 paramilitary troopers in India-administered Kashmir.
The statement from the Pakistan Prime Minister’s Office “strongly rejected Indian claim of targeting an alleged terrorist camp near Balakot and the claim of heavy casualties.”
The remarks came in response to Indian Foreign Secretary Vijay Keshav Gokhale’s statement that India’s warplanes bombed and killed a large number of militants of the Jaish-e-Mohammed group that claimed the suicide attack in the disputed Kashmir region.
Terming the statement as “fiction,” Pakistan said the claim by the government of India was to target Indian voters in an “election environment” as the country is set to hold general elections in a few months.
“Pakistan shall respond at the time and place of its choosing,” the Pakistan statement said.
The NSC meeting was attended by senior military and civil officials, including Chief of Army Staff Qamar Javed Bajwa and Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi.
In a press briefing before the meeting, Qureshi said the Indian warplanes entered the Pakistani airspace but Pakistan Air Force chased them away.
Pakistan Defense Minister Defense Pervez Khattak in the same press conference said Indian warplanes “came inside four to five kilometers and bombed.”
“They are lying that they attacked a madrasa (Islamic seminary),” said Khattak.
Earlier, Pakistan’s military spokesperson Major General Asif Ghafoor said Indian jets were forced to retreat after they faced “timely and effective response” from Pakistan Air Force.
The spokesperson said that the Indian fighters while escaping released payload in haste which fell near Balakot – located in Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, outside Pakistan-administered Kashmir.
Tensions between the regional rivals escalated dramatically earlier this month after the Feb. 14 attack in which a suicide bomber rammed his explosives-laden vehicle into a bus carrying paramilitary troopers in Indian Kashmir.
Kashmir, one of the most militarized territories in the world, has been the subject of a decades-long sovereignty dispute between Pakistan and India. The armed insurgency in the Himalayan region has left tens of thousands of people dead since it erupted in 1989.
India has repeatedly accused Pakistan of supporting cross-border terrorism and of allowing and sponsoring the operation of terrorist groups on its territory to attack Indian targets and to provoke separatist protests among the Kashmiri population.
Pakistan has always dismissed the allegations, saying Kashmiris were fighting their own battle for right to self-determination and that the Indian armed forces were subjecting civilian Kashmiris to gross human rights abuses.