By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 1st March 19
Late on Thursday, three officers from the army, navy and air force addressed the media in New Delhi to communicate India’s decision to de-escalate the current India-Pakistan standoff and maintain “peace and stability in the region”.
“Despite the present turn of events, the Indian Army is committed to maintaining peace and stability in the region and will continue to act against agencies who harbour inimical designs against India and citizens of our country”, said Major General SS Mahal of the army.
The statement also indicated that the army is deployed defensively along the border and that there would be no further armed action unless “provocation” came from Pakistan.
“I wish to assure the nation that we are fully prepared and in a heightened state of readiness to respond to any provocation by Pakistan”, said Mahal.
The air force pointedly avoided answering a question about whether the attack by Pakistani fighter aircraft on Indian military facilities constituted an act of war.
The press meeting came a few hours after Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan announced that the Indian Air Force (IAF) MiG-21 pilot, Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman, who was shot down and captured by Pakistani troops on Wednesday, would be repatriated to India on Friday as a goodwill gesture.
Earlier, after a summit meeting in North Korea, US President Donald Trump had declared that there was good news in the offing about the India-Pakistan standoff.
The IAF statement, while remaining silent on the Indian strike on Balakot in Pakistan on Tuesday, described in detail the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) raid into India on Wednesday.
It said that “a large package of PAF aircraft” ingressed across the Line of Control (LoC) and “attempted to target military installations [but] were intercepted by IAF fighter aircraft, which thwarted their plans.”
“In the aerial combat that ensued one F-16 of PAF was shot down by an IAF MiG-21 Bison [fighter aircraft]. The F-16 crashed and fell across the LoC… The IAF lost one MiG-21 in the aerial engagement.”
Even as de-escalation has been initiated at the political and senior military level, the army revealed tensions on the ground, with “unprovoked cease fire violations in Sunderbani, Bhimbar Gali, Naushera and Krishna Ghati sectors on [Tuesday]. This was responded to by the Indian Army in a befitting and appropriate manner.”