New Delhi: India mounted a massive offensive on Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) in Pakistan on Tuesday when its air force carried a ‘non-military pre-emptive air strike’ on three JeM camps, killing nearly 300 terrorists in the attack.

In a pre-dawn operation that lasted just 21 minutes, twelve Indian Air Force Mirage 2000 jets dropped six 1,000 kg laser-guided bombs over two Jaish camps in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir’s (PoK) Chakothi, Muzaffarabad areas and pounded JeM’s biggest training camp in Balakot.

The IAF struck a five-star resort-style camp in Balakot on a hilltop forest that provided a dozen Mirage 2000 fighter jets of the Indian Air Force (IAF) with a “sitting duck target” and caught the terrorists in their sleep, sources said.

Later, addressing a press conference in New Delhi, Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale explained the need for the pre-emptive strike and said, “Credible intelligence was received that JeM was attempting another suicide terror attack in various parts of the country, and the fidayeen jihadis were being trained for this purpose. In the face of imminent danger, a pre-emptive strike became absolutely necessary.”

He added, “The Government of India is firmly and resolutely committed to taking all necessary measures to fight the menace of terrorism. Hence this non-military pre-emptive action was specifically targeted at the JeM camp. The selection of the target was also conditioned by our desire to avoid civilian casualties.”

The strike comes nearly two weeks after the dastardly Pulwama terror attack in south Kashmir which claimed the lives of 40 CRPF personnel.

‘India in safe hands’

Soon after New Delhi announced the pre-emptive air strike, Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressed a rally in Rajasthan’s Churu. Amid loud cheering by the crowd, PM Modi roared,  “Today is a day to pay homage to India’s bravehearts. I want to assure you that the country is in safe hands. Every Indian will win. We won’t let anything threaten India. Serving you is my priority. I will always defend the nation…“

Key Jaish e Mohammed terrorists targeted in today’s air strikes: Mufti Azhar Khan Kashmiri, head of Kashmir operations(pic 1) and Ibrahim Azhar(pic 2), the elder brother of Masood Azhar who was also involved in the IC-814 hijacking pic.twitter.com/IUv1njNygA

— ANI (@ANI) February 26, 2019

Pakistan on edge

Baffled by the IAF strikes, Pakistan summoned Acting Indian High Commissioner Gaurav Ahluwalia to the Foreign Office to lodge its protest over India’s ‘aggressive’ strike on its territory.

Earlier in the day, a high-level meeting of the National Security Council (NSC) was chaired by Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan who “rejected Indian claims of targeting an alleged terrorist camp near Balakot as well as the claim of heavy casualties” and said in a statement that Pakistan will decide the time and place of response to the “aggression”.

According to reports, Khan also decided to engage with the global leadership to expose the “irresponsible” Indian policy in the region and said the violation of the LoC will be raised with the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), the UN and friendly countries.

Following the meeting, Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi  said that Khan had telephonic conversations with UAE Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan as well as Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman over the issue.

“I also took British and Chinese Foreign Ministers into confidence because I knew a trilateral meeting is about to take place in Beijing between India, China and Russia,” he added.

Qureshi had earlier in the day addressed an emergency consultative meeting at the Foreign Office where he said that Pakistan holds the “right to self-defence” and a “befitting response” to India.

Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi: This was grave aggression by India against Pakistan. This is a violation of LoC and Pakistan has the right to retaliate and self defence pic.twitter.com/dSDS8GFH3x

— ANI (@ANI) February 26, 2019

Pakistan Army hiding dead bodies?

Hours after the Indian Air Force decimated three camps of the Jaish-e-Mohammed, intel reports suggested that the Pakistan Army undertook a sanitation drive to hide the bodies of terrorists killed in Balakot camp.

Sources suggested that the Pakistan Army personnel cleaned the attack site so as to refute New Delhi’s claims of neutralising terror buds breeding on Pakistan’s soil.

Pakistan violates ceasefire

Meanwhile, Pakistani troops violated the ceasefire on the LoC in Jammu and Kashmir’s Poonch, Rajouri and Jammu districts, leading to a gun duel as Indian troops retaliated, an official said.

Defence Ministry spokesman Lt Col Devender Anand said Pakistan violated ceasefire in Akhnoor, Nowshera and Krishna Ghati sectors of the LoC around 5.30 PM  using heavy mortars and small arms to target Indian positions.

#VISUALS Jammu & Kashmir: Ceasefire violation by Pakistan in the Nowshera sector of Rajouri district. (Visuals deferred by unspecified time) pic.twitter.com/ex7VHzG0c2

— ANI (@ANI) February 26, 2019

China, Australia and France react

Pakistan’s all-weather friend China was the first nation to issue a statement on India’s ‘non military pre-emptive air strike’ , “We hope that both India and Pakistan can exercise restraint and adopt actions that will help stabilise the situation in the region and improve mutual relations,” said China Foreign Ministry spokesperson Lu Kang.

He added, “We hope the two countries can keep restraint and do more to improve bilateral relations.”

Soon after the Australian government raised concerns over the rising tensions in the Indian subcontinent and said, “Australia urges both sides to exercise restraint, avoid any action which would endanger peace and security in the region and engage in dialogue to ensure that these issues are resolved peacefully.”

Standing in solidarity with India, the acting spokesperson of France’s Ministry of Europe and Foreign Affairs asserted that France is fully engaged in mobilising intelligence community to sanction terrorists responsible for the Pulwama attack and freezing their financing networks.

PM Modi congratulates service chiefs

On the other hand, hours after the IAF warplanes struck terror buds in Pakistan, the Prime Minister met the three service chiefs and congratulated them on the feat, particularly Chief of Air Staff Air Chief Marshal B S Dhanoa.

The three chiefs then also met National Security Advisor Ajit Doval and discussed overall preparation of the forces to deal with any eventualities, sources said.

In a related development, Union External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj called an all-party meet to brief the Opposition leaders about the IAF strike.

Speaking to the media after the meet, Swaraj said, ““I am happy that all parties in one voice praised the security forces and supported the Government’s anti-terror operations.”

High alert in Punjab and Gujarat

In the light of IAF’s strike in Pakistan, border districts of Punjab and Gujarat have been put on high alert.

According to PTI, Gujarat’s Director General of Police Shivanand Jha cancelled a conference on crime-related issues in Gandhinagar and asked all officers to return to their respective headquarters instead.

In Punjab, Chief Minister Amarinder Singh is likely to visit the border areas from Pathankot to Ferozepur by road on Wednesday and take stock of the situation. He has also ordered a series of measures to ensure the state is prepared to deal with any contingency.