PESHAWAR, Pakistan — Pakistan says India launched an airstrike on its territory early Tuesday that caused no casualties, while India said it targeted a terrorist training camp in a pre-emptive strike that killed a “very large number” of militants.
The overnight raid was the latest escalation between the nuclear-armed rivals since a deadly suicide bombing in the disputed Kashmir region earlier this month killed more than 40 Indian soldiers. Pakistan has denied involvement in the attack but has vowed to respond to any Indian military operation against it.
The Pakistan-based militant group Jaish-e-Mohammad claimed responsibility. The bomber, who made a video before the attack, was a resident of Indian-controlled sector of Kashmir
Pakistan’s military spokesman, Maj. Gen Asif Ghafoor, said the Indian “aircrafts” crossed into the Muzafarabad sector of Kashmir, which is split between the two countries but claimed by each in its entirety. He said Pakistan scrambled fighters and the Indian jets “released payload in haste” near Balakot, on the edge of Pakistani-ruled part of Kashmir.
India’s foreign secretary, Vijay Gokhale, told reporters in New Delhi that Indian fighter aircraft targeted Jaish-e-Mohammad camps in a pre-emptive strike after intelligence indicated another attack was being planned.
“Acting on intelligence, India early today stuck the biggest training camp of Jaish-e-Mohammad in Balakot,” he said. “In this operation a very large number of Jaish-e-Mohammad terrorists, trainers, senior commanders and jihadis being trained were eliminated.”
Balakot police chief Saghir Hussain Shah told The Associated Press that he had sent teams to the area where the Indian bombs reportedly hit, which he described as a mostly deserted wooded area.
“There are no casualties, there are no damages on the ground because of the dropping of the bombs,” he said. There was no immediate explanation for the differing accounts, but India and Pakistan routinely contradict one another.
© The Associated Press In this Monday, Feb. 25, 2019 photo, Pakistani protesters carry an effigy of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi during anti-Indian rally in Peshawar, Pakistan. Pakistan says Indian aircraft crossed into its territory and dropped bombs on Tuesday without causing casualties, in the latest escalation between the nuclear-armed rivals since a deadly attack on Indian troops in the disputed Kashmir region sent tensions soaring. (AP Photo/Muhammadf Sajjad)
The Feb. 14 attack in Indian-ruled Kashmir was the worst attack on Indian forces since the start of the 1989 insurgency in Kashmir and came as Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is in the middle of a re-election campaign.
Addressing a rally of former soldier’s in the Indian state of Rajasthan on Tuesday, just hours after the airstrike, Modi said India was in “safe hands.”
“I vow that I will not let the country bow down,” he said.
China, a close ally of Pakistan, urged both sides to show restraint.
“We hope that both India and Pakistan can … take actions that will help stabilize the situation in the region and help to improve mutual relations, instead of the other way around,” China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang told reporters.
Insurgents in the Indian-controlled Kashmir have been demanding either outright independence or union with Pakistan. India routinely accuses Pakistan of arming and training militants who cross the mountainous Himalayan region. In the last year, its increasingly bloody crackdown has escalated tensions in the troubled region.
Kashmir — divided between India and Pakistan but claimed by both in its entirety — has been the cause of two wars between the uneasy neighbors. They fought a third war in 1979 over East Pakistan, which gained its independence with the help of India and became Bangladesh.