The Indian jets destroyed a hilltop training camp near Balakot where Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) jihadists were preparing an imminent attack, the country’s foreign minister claimed.
However, Pakistan dismissed that claim as «fictitious» and «self-serving», and said its own jets had intercepted the raiding force and seen it off. It said the Indian jets dropped their bombs «in haste» as they fled and they caused no damage, landing in deserted forest.
Villagers near Balakot said they had been woken by jets and four blasts in an area close to a JeM madrassa. But they denied heavy casualties and said the damage was largely to trees. One person was wounded.
«We saw trees fallen down and one house damaged and four craters,» Mohammad Ajmal, a 25-year-old who visited the site told Reuters.
An attack was widely predicted as Narendra Modi, India’s prime minister, faced domestic outrage over the bomb attack in Pulwama blamed on JeM.
Pakistan has long been accused of harbouring militant groups. JeM is primarily an anti-India group that forged ties with al-Qaeda and has been on a UN terrorist list since 2001.
India says JeM was also behind attacks in 2001 on the Indian parliament and in 2016 on an Indian air force base. Pakistan denies involvement in the Pulwama attack.
Western diplomats now fear any counter retaliation by Pakistan could dangerously escalate the stand-off and trigger an international crisis.
With an Indian general election only weeks away, Modi had come under intense pressure to act.
As news channels on both sides of the border became increasingly bellicose, a Pakistani military spokesman even alluded to its nuclear arsenal, highlighting the escalation in hostile rhetoric.
The spokesman said a command and control authority meeting, which decides over the use of nuclear weapons, had been convened for Wednesday, adding: «You all know what that means.»
The Telegraph, London