Muzaffarabad (Pakistan/Srinagar): A top Indian minister said on Saturday the government would not share proof that "a very large number" of militants were killed in air strikes inside Pakistan, after doubts were raised there were any casualties in the attack that stoked tensions between the nuclear-armed rivals.
The flare up appeared to be easing on Saturday after Pakistan handed back a "captured" Indian Air Force (IAF) pilot on Friday night, amid efforts by global powers to prevent another war between the arch enemies.
However, shelling across the Line of Control (LoC) that acts as a de facto border in the disputed Kashmir region, a frequent feature in recent weeks, continued, said military officials on both sides.
Hostilities escalated rapidly following a suicide car bombing on 14 February that killed at least 42 Indian paramilitary police in Indian-controlled Kashmir. India accuses Pakistan of harbouring the Jaish-e Mohammad (JeM) terror outfit that claimed the bombing.
Indian aircraft carried out air strikes on 26 February inside northeast Pakistan’s Balakot and three other locations on what New Delhi called "militant camps". Islamabad denied any such camps existed, as did local villagers in the area when Reuters visited.
Pakistan said the Indian bombs hit a largely empty hillside without hurting anyone. Some Indian Opposition leaders have asked the Central government to share evidence of the strikes.
But Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, one of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s top lieutenants, said "no security agencies ever share operational details".
"It’s a very irresponsible stand," Jaitley said at a conference organised by the India Today media group.
"The armed forces must have, and our security and intelligence agencies must have, a full leeway in dealing with situations, and if anybody wants operational details to be made public ... he certainly does not understand the system," said Jaitley.
IAF officials said earlier it was up to the political leaders to decide when and how to release evidence of the Balakot strike.
Jaitley dismissed suggestions that the rapid escalation in tensions with Pakistan had anything to do with India’s domestic politics ahead of a general election due in May. Pollsters expect the ruling party to benefit from the nationalistic passion sweeping the country.
Pilot walks across the border
IAF Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman, who became the face and symbol of the biggest clash between India and Pakistan in many years, walked across the border just before 9 pm on Friday in a high-profile handover shown on live television.
Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman met him at a New Delhi defence hospital on Saturday, where he was seen in his air force jumpsuit. He will undergo medical examination before re-joining active duty, officials said.
Pakistan’s military said on Saturday its air force and navy "continued to be alert and vigilant", while two of its soldiers were killed after exchanging fire with Indian troops along the LoC. India’s military said that Pakistan was firing mortar shells across the LoC.
Pakistan touted Abhinandan’s return as "as a goodwill gesture aimed at de-escalating rising tensions with India" after weeks of unease that threatened to spiral into war.
Global powers, including China and the United States, have urged restraint to prevent another conflict between the neighbours who have fought three wars since independence from Britain in 1947.
Pakistani leaders say the ball is now in India’s court to de-escalate the tensions, though the Pakistani army chief told top military leaders of the United States, Britain and Australia on Friday that his country would "surely respond to any aggression in self-defence".
On a visit to Jammu and Kashmir on Saturday, India’s army chief asked soldiers to remain vigilant to "counter the nefarious designs of the enemy and anti-national elements".
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Updated Date: Mar 03, 2019 18:22:41 IST