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Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi Tuesday declared that Pakistan will respond to India's aggression at the time and place of its own choosing as tension escalated between the two nuclear neighbours after Indian Air Force (IAF) aircraft violated the Line of Control and dropped a payload on Balakot.

Qureshi along with Minister for Defence Pervez Khattak and Minister for Finance Asad Umar was briefing reporters about the decisions taken by a special meeting of National Security Committee (NSC) chaired by Prime Minister Imran Khan, who, according to an official handout, directed that elements of national power including the armed forces and the people of Pakistan to remain prepared for all "eventualities."

The foreign minister said that the NSC strongly rejected Indian claim of targeting an alleged terrorist camp near Balakot and the claim of heavy casualties, adding that the meeting deplored that once again Indian government has resorted to a self-serving, reckless and fictitious claim.

"This action has been done for domestic consumption being in election environment, putting regional peace and stability at grave risk," the NSC observed in an official handout.

It stated that the claimed area of strike is open for the world to see the facts on ground. For this, domestic and international media is being taken to the impact site. "The forum concluded that India has committed uncalled-for aggression to which Pakistan shall respond at the time and place of its choosing," it added.

To take the nation on board, it stated that the government has decided to requisition joint session of the Parliament. The Prime Minister has summoned special meeting of National Command Authority (NCA) on Feb 27, 2019 (today).

"Keeping this situation in view, we need to reevaluate, and we need to brief the Parliament. Whatever the facts are, aside from the Foreign Office, the DG military operations and deputy chief of air staff will together take the lawmakers into confidence and inform them about the exact situation. It is our responsibility and obligation to inform the people of Pakistan," Qureshi said.

He said that the Prime Minister has decided to engage with global leadership to expose irresponsible Indian policy in the region, adding that the Prime Minister also appreciated timely and effective response of PAF to repulse Indian attempt without any loss of life or property.

The meeting was attended by ministers of foreign affairs, defence and finance, Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee, COAS, CNS, CAS and other civil and military officials.

Qureshi also updated the media about his contacts with his counterparts and leadership of the OIC member countries and shard with them Pakistan's concern over inviting Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj as 'guest of honor' at upcoming inaugural plenary of the 46th Session of the Council of Foreign Ministers of the OIC in the UAE.

"In what capacity a representative body of the Muslim Ummah is going to invite a foreign minister of a country which is neither a member of the forum nor an observer while her country has resorted to aggression against a founding OIC member country," Qureshi asked, adding that Pakistan was not taken into confidence though he was conveyed by his counterparts from the UAE and Saudi Arabia but by then the situation has been changed and an aggression against Pakistan is carried out. Rejecting the Indian government's claims of eradicating a so-called terrorist camp at the air strike carried out after the IAF planes violated Pakistan's air space at 2:55am early Tuesday morning following which PAF planes immediately scrambled. By 2:58 am, Qureshi said that the Indian planes had fled and left Pakistan's air space after an effective response was given by the PAF aircraft. "The PAF was already airborne and we were ready for all eventualities," he said, adding that Indian planes left within three minutes. "I don't want to go into details here but the timely action of PAF stopped the intruding Indian planes...They diverted the Indian jets, which went back because of the alertness of our air force."

He also rejected the impression that PAF planes were late in their response, adding that PAF is always ready to face the challenge. "Do not underestimate their [PAF] ability. We have our own sense of timing. We will act, not react," he added.

Promising a befitting response to the Indian aggression, Qureshi also stated that Pakistan is preparing its strategy on military, diplomatic and political levels to give an appropriate response.

He said that NSC also decided that National Command Authority (NCA) meeting be convened today (Wednesday).

He said that the NSC also constituted a committee comprising ministers of defence, finance and foreign affairs to contact parliamentary leadership in order to take them into confidence on the evolving situation. He further said that it was also decided that the UNMOGIP be also taken to the site.

Qureshi said that he also spoke to his Turkish counterpart earlier in the day and briefed him about the Indian aggression. He said that Prime Minister Imran Khan has also had telephonic conversations with UAE Crown Prince Sheikh Zayed and as well as Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and briefed them on the evolving situation in the wake of Indian aggression.

He said that an emergency meeting of OIC group in Jeddah is also underway and Foreign Secretary Tehmina Janjua is representing Pakistan in the meeting to share with them the viewpoint of Pakistan.

Qureshi stated that Pakistan is a peaceful country but understands the importance of protecting its borders, adding that Modi's government is putting the security of the South Asia at risk for domestic elections.

He said he has also taken his British and Chinese counterparts into confidence, as a trilateral meeting is about to take place in Beijing between India, China and Russia. "I wanted to present the facts before them," he added.

Qureshi said that soon after the Pulwama attack, Prime Minister Imran Khan offered engagement and cooperation to India with all sincerity, but it was not reciprocated in kind.

To a question, if Indian aggression could affect the Katarpur border initiative, he said that Kartarpur was a dream that Pakistan fulfilled and it had a message of peace that Pakistan gave. "We opened the ways for Kartarpur not to shut them. Hopefully, Indians will also open up their brains which are closed because they are focused on politics," he added.

Responding to a question, Defence Minister Pervez Khattak said a befitting response will be given to Indian aggression. He said that PAF is well prepared against any Indian aggression, adding: "If such an action is repeated, a clear response will be given."

Agencies add: Indian jets crossed into Pakistani territory on Tuesday, dramatically escalating tensions between the nuclear-armed neighbours who have fought three wars against each other.

"Air Force carried out aerial strike early morning today at terror camps across the LoC (Line of Control) and Completely destroyed it," India's minister of state for agriculture, Gajendra Singh Shekhawat, claimed on Twitter.

Ghafoor, saying that more information would be released, tweeted four pictures of the alleged site where Indian aircraft dropped a payload near Balakot, showing a bomb crater in a forest area but no serious damage.

Indian markets fell on Tuesday amid concerns over increased tensions with Pakistan. The rupee fell to 71.16 to the dollar compared with Monday's close of 70.9850.

The 10-year benchmark bond yield rose to 7.61 percent compared with 7.58 percent on Monday, while the broader NSE stock index declined 1.17 percent.

Indian television channels quoted unidentified government sources as saying multiple targets were destroyed during the air raid into Pakistan involving a dozen Mirage aircraft.

"It's an airborne surgical strike, we have upped the ante," he claimed.

Mohammed Iqbal, a resident of Mendhar in occupied Kashmir, said there had been jets flying all night.

The purported attack would be India's first use of air strikes against Pakistan since 1971.

The escalation has triggered international alarm, with China and the European Union calling for both sides to show restraint.

New Delhi alleged its jets had hit a JeM training camp and killed "a very large number" of militants training to stage suicide attacks in India.

"In the face of imminent danger, a preemptive strike became absolutely necessary," Indian Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale said.

India's foreign ministry also said the camp was at Balakot, but gave no further detail and the exact location remained unclear.

Residents in Balakot described hearing at least four explosions overnight, but said the damage had been minimal.

"There is one house near the place whose wall has collapsed, and one person got minor injuries," said 25-year-old Zubari Afzal.

The Pakistani military escorted journalists to the site where it said the payload had been dropped.

An AFP reporter could see a crater roughly six feet deep and equally wide, and two trees that had been snapped in half, but the only nearby buildings were three mud houses, one with a collapsed wall.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Pakistan counterpart Imran Khan both summoned emergency meetings of top ministers after the attack.

Modi, who is expected to call an election in April, had threatened a "jaw-breaking" response to the February 14 attack.

But at a rally in Rajasthan on Tuesday, the Indian leader did not directly mention the strike. He paid tribute to the military and said: "I assure the nation that the country is in safe hands."

Other top Indian officials claimed the strike displayed the country's determination to act against Pakistan.

Samir Saran, president of the Observer Research Foundation think tank in New Delhi said the fact that India remained vague over the exact spot it had targeted was a sign that New Delhi did not want an all-out conflict.

"This is to take the pressure off Pakistanis. We are still telling them that we don't want an escalation. Which is why we have said that we have taken a preemptive measure. You don't have to make this into a war, if you don't want to," he said.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2019

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