Indian planes bomb Pakistan as Kashmir tensions escalate

Ben Farmer

Indian warplanes dropped bombs inside Pakistan early on Tuesday, both sides said, as military tensions between the nuclear arch rivals escalated dramatically following last week's Kashmir suicide attack.

India said aircraft had destroyed a terrorist training camp where militants were training to carry out an imminent attack, in its first airstrikes against Pakistan since their 1971 war. But the Pakistani military said the aircraft had caused no damage after dropping their payload early when repulsed by defending forces.

India's foreign minister, Vijay Gokhale,  said the action had struck a hilltop training camp of the Jaish-e-Mohammad militant group, near Balakot. Describing the strikes as "non-military pre-emptive action", he claimed "a very large number of Jaish-e-Mohammad terrorists, trainers, senior commanders and groups of jihadis who were being trained for fidayeen [suicide] action were eliminated".

The Indian jets crossed the disputed line of control near Muzafarabad in Kashmir, according to Maj Gen Asif Ghafoor, spokesman for Pakistan's armed forces. One local police official who declined to be named told the Telegraph that the strike had taken place at Jabba, near Balakot, inside the Pakistani province of  Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

Photograph released by Pakistan military said to show site where Indian bombs fell in Kashmir

Villagers in the area told Reuters they heard four loud bangs in the early hours of Tuesday but reported only one person wounded by shrapnel.

"We saw trees fallen down and one house damaged and four craters where the bombs had fallen," said Mohammad Ajmal, a 25-year-old who visited the site.

Pakistan said the Indian claims were "self-serving, reckless and fictitious" and released photographs of a cratered wooded hillside where it said the "payload" had landed.

Indians set off fireworks to celebrate the strike Credit: AFP

“Facing timely and effective response from Pakistan Air Force released payload in haste while escaping which fell near Balakot. No casualties or damage," said Maj Gen Ghafoor.

He went on: “Under forced hasty withdrawal aircrafts released payload which had free fall in open area. No infrastructure got hit, no casualties.”

Indian military sources said 12 French Mirage 2000 fighters crossed the line of control on their raid into Pakistani territory at around 3.15am local time.  

Accompanied by an IAF airborne early warning and control aircraft and a mid-air re-fueller, the Mirages reportedly employed 1000kg precision guided munitions or PGMs to hit their targets in a mission that lasted a few minutes.   

Pakistan's government said it would hold an emergency meeting to discuss the incident and in the past has said it would retaliate against any aggression from Delhi.

Tensions between the neighbours have been raised since at least 40 Indian paramilitary police were killed in a suicide bombing on their convoy near Pulwama in Indian-controlled Kashmir earlier this month.

Narendra Modi faces a general election this spring and has come under intense domestic pressure to respond to an attack he says was carried out by the Pakistan-based militant group Jaish-e-Mohammad.

Both sides claim Kashmir, which is divided between the neighbours by a heavily militarised line of control. Rivalry over the region has led to two of their three wars.

Prakash Javadekar, India's human resource development minister, said: "This was a necessary step for the defence of the country, and Prime Minister Narendra Modi had given the armed forces a free hand. The whole country stands behind the armed forces."

Pakistan's foreign minister, Shah Mahmood Qureshi warned India not to challenge Pakistan and said "better sense" should prevail in Delhi.

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