Despite the conciliatory gesture by Pakistan on Thursday to return a captured Indian Air Force pilot, a cautious India has decided that it will not allow Pakistan to change the narrative and will remain resolute in exerting pressure to end terror infrastructure.
While acknowledging Pakistan premier Imran Khan's overture in a late-evening press briefing by the three defence forces, the government refused to answer if the offer of a personal call to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and a joint probe into Pulwama attacks, would de-escalate tensions between the two countries.
At the joint press briefing at Raisina Hill, Air Vice Marshal RGK Kapoor, accompanied by Major General Surinder Singh Mahal and Rear Admiral DS Gujral, briefed the media on Wednesday's dogfight between IAF and Pakistan Air Force (PAF). Kapoor said PAF jets were intercepted by IAF and their bombs fell in Indian Army formation compounds, missing our military installations.
The jets, he said, were detected by IAF radars when they were heading towards general area Jhangar. They breached Indian airspace west of Rajouri in Subderbani area and IAF fighters including MiG-21, Bison, Su-30 MKI and Mirage-2000 intercepted them. After the IAF craft intercepted PAF craft, an aerial dogfight followed, Kapoor said, and PAF's F-16 was shot down by an IAF MiG-21 Bison jet. The F-16 crashed, falling across LoC in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir.
(Indian Air Force officials show sections of an exploded Amraam missile, said to be fired by Pakistan Air Force F-16s, at a joint press conference by the armed forces at South Block in Delhi on Thursday —BB Yadav/DNA)
India presented parts of AMRAAM missile fired by Pakistani F-16 jets to bust its claim that no F-16s were used during the strikes on India's military installations in Jammu and Kashmir on Wednesday. Kapoor said the electronic signature of the jet was checked and it revealed conclusively that it was indeed an F-16 jet.
Kapoor said Pakistan spread "disinformation" that two IAF craft were shot down and three pilots downed. "Fact is, that Indian Army units had reported sighting two parachutes falling in the POK which were of two F-16 pilots shot down by the IAF MiG-21 Bison. Pakistan later in the evening changed its statement to say that one Indian pilot was in their custody," Kapoor said.
Parts of the AMRAAM air-to-air missile were recovered from East Rajouri the Indian territory.
Though Pakistan claimed it just wanted to prove a point by dropping bombs in pockets empty of military and civilian installations, India insisted that Pakistan's intention was to target Indian military installations, specifically a brigade headquarters, a battalion headquarters, forward defences and a logistics installation. But it failed to hit the targets and concealed its failure behind the purported intention.
Major General Mahal sought to assure that India was fully prepared to respond to any provocation and the forces were in a heightened state of readiness.
On IAF's strikes in Balakot, Kapoor said there was fairly credible evidence of damage inflicted on terror camps and weapons had hit intended targets. Pressed for details about the casualties caused by the strikes, he said, "Fairly credible evidence is there on damage and weapons hit intended target. It would be premature to talk on number of casualties."
Imran Khan had surprised everyone by suddenly announcing his government's decision to return IAF pilot Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman to India as a "gesture of peace". He made the announcement in Pakistan's parliament on Thursday evening.
At the Bharatiya Janata Party's video-conference with one crore party booth workers, Prime Minister Narendra Modi gave people the message to stand united to thwart enemy efforts to stall India's progress through acts of terrorism.
"When the enemy supports terror and carries out activity against India, it is with the intent that India's progress gets stalled. But we must all ensure that we stand together, stand united, stand with our soldiers to ensure we are strong... ensure that no matter what, our progress and our work does not stop," said PM Modi.
The Prime Minister met all the three service chiefs and NSA Ajit Doval in the morning, and chaired a meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) late in the evening, where he reviewed the latest developments.
"The government is of the firm opinion that the ball is in Pakistan's court to de-escalate tensions. It can be done only by taking immediate, credible and verifiable action against terrorists and proxies operating from its soil. We will not let it go unless Pakistan does that, It needs to walk the talk," government sources said.
The government, the sources said, firmly believes that none of its actions has led to an escalation, and it has focussed on the main issue of the need for counterterrorism initiatives by Pakistan in its engagement with the world community.
They said that India has signalled to the world community that it is not creating a war psychosis or shutting down its airspace or suspending even a crossborder train. The sources pointed out that all such steps have been taken by Pakistan to attract the focus of the world community.
The government, however, is ready to hold limited parleys with Pakistan on March 14 on modalities for opening the Kartarpur Sahib Corridor in Pakistani Punjab as the issue affects a sizeable number of Sikh community members, and the proposal for talks had come from Islamabad, the sources said.