NEW DELHI: Amid air raids and escalating conflict between India and Pakistan on Wednesday, Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan made a veiled attempt to invite India for peace talks in a television address.
After Pakistan shot down a MiG-21 of the Indian Air Force and captured the pilot in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, Khan’s speech sought to build a narrative of a victory over India and offered to defuse the tense situation between the two countries through dialogue.
Indian Air Force's (IAF) Mirage 2000 fighter jets had in the wee hours of Tuesday destroyed a Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) terrorist training camp in Balakot, Pakistan.
The air strike came 12 days after the 14 February Pulwama attack that killed 40 CRPF personnel. JeM has claimed responsibility for the attack.
Khan's speech, trying to claim the high moral ground over Pakistan’s well thought-out counter measures, which were not taken in haste, came on a day Russia, India and China agreed for closer policy coordination to eradicate terror breeding grounds.
The three countries met in Wuzhen in China on Wednesday for an annual trilateral meeting. “They stressed that terrorist groups cannot be supported and used in political and geopolitical goals," the joint communique issued by Russia, India and China said.
In a line that could be seen as a direct reference to Pakistan, the joint statement said: “Those committing, orchestrating, inciting or supporting terrorist acts must be held accountable and brought to justice in accordance with existing international commitments on countering terrorism."
So far, China, seen as an all-weather ally of Pakistan, has been instrumental in blocking multiple proposals to ban JeM chief Maulana Masood Azhar by the UN.
Rising temperatures in the Indian subcontinent have prompted the UK, the US, Australia, France and Russia, besides the European Union, to express concerns and call for restraint.
However, Khan, in his speech, said that Pakistan’s move to send its aircraft into India was “only intended to convey that if you can come into our country, we can do the same"--a reference to Pakistani jets entering Indian airspace on Wednesday. Indian Air Force jets challenged the Pakistanis, shooting down one F-16 fighter jet in Pok, government spokesperson said?. Pakistan also shot down an Indian fighter aircraft, capturing its pilot Abhinandan Varthaman. Pakistani video clips later showed the pilot in custody, triggering outrage in New Delhi.
Khan later warned that all wars started on miscalculations on how long it can last and the human cost involved. Delving into history, he drew examples form World War I and the World War II, besides the US-led war on terror in Afghanistan, which began in November 2001 and was still continuing.
Hinting at Pakistan’s nuclear capabilities, Khan said: “I ask India: With the weapons (nuclear) you have and the weapons (nuclear) we have, can we really afford a miscalculation? If this (situation) escalates, it will no longer be in my control or in (Prime Minister) Narendra Modi’s. Let’s sit together and settle this with talks."
Khan also said that Pakistan’s action of sending its fighter jets to target Indian military installations—as claimed by an Indian statement—was an informed decision, not taken in haste, but after consultations with senior military officials.
He said Pakistan offered India its cooperation in the investigation after the 14 February Pulwama suicide attack carried out by the JeM. “We know how the families of those killed in Pulwama incident must have felt. We have been the victims of war for decades...Since the beginning we have asked India to share actionable evidence with us. It is nowhere in the interest of Pakistan for it to be used as a base for militancy."
“But I had a hunch that India would escalate, and that is why I had said that if India escalates, we will retaliate," Khan said referring to India’s retaliatory strike on the Jaish camp in Balakot.