As It Happens

Pakistani columnist accuses India of 'sabre rattling' with claims it struck a terrorist cell

India says its airstrikes eliminated a terrorist cell in Pakistan-controlled Kashmir. But Pakistani columnist Mosharraf Zaidi says, while there were certainly airstrikes, they don't appear to have struck anything significant.

India says it hit militant targets with airstrike, while Pakistan claims there is no death toll

Demonstrators shout anti-Pakistani slogans as they celebrate the Indian Air Force strike, which India says targeted a Jaish-e-Mohammad compound. (Manoj Kumar/AFP/Getty Images)

Transcript

It marks the most serious escalation between India and Pakistan in years.

On Tuesday morning, Indian fighter jets crossed a ceasefire line into Kashmir and fired airstrikes. It was India's first attack on Pakistan since the two countries went to war in 1971.

According to Indian officials, the strikes were hugely successful. They say the attack wiped out a jihadist terrorist training camp run by Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM), the group that claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing two weeks ago that killed 40 Indian security officers.

But Pakistan says that story is untrue. It says the Indian war planes dropped bombs in a heavily forested area and there were no casualties.

As It Happens host Carol Off spoke to Pakistani political analyst Mosharraf Zaidiabout the airstrikes and why he thinks either version of the story will only escalate tensions between the two countries.

Here is part of their conversation.

This is the first time since the war in 1971 that we've seen India enter Pakistan airspace and launch these kinds of airstrikes. How is it playing out in Pakistan tonight?

It's being seen as exactly the kind of grave escalation and very serious violation of Pakistani territorial integrity and Pakistani sovereignty that it is.

Pakistani reporters and troops visit the site of an Indian airstrike in Jaba, near Balakot, Pakistan. (Aqeel Ahmed/Associated Press)

India says that its jets went into Pakistan to strike this militant group Jaish-e-Mohammed, which claimed responsibility for this attack on Indian paramilitary police two weeks ago where 40 of them were killed in this convoy by a suicide bomber. This is what they said the target was. What do you know at this point as to what India struck inside Pakistani space?

As far as the pictures that have been shared of the site by the spokesperson for the military, it's a hilltop and there's a bunch of trees and there's a big crater on the side of a mountain, or not even a mountain — a grassy hill, essentially.

There are accounts of journalists who reached there today, during the day. They've been reporting back that the so-called compound that was supposedly targeted is still intact. Others are reporting that there's some damage.

In India, of course, the media has been alight. There has been reporting of as many as 350 people killed and large compounds taken out. But the evidence for that either does not exist, or we haven't seen it yet.

This conflict in Kashmir region, often there are differing stories between India and Pakistan as to what happened. But have you seen such an extreme difference between possibly no one hurt or hit, and hundreds killed?

I think that it speaks to the unbelievable divide between these two countries.

Earlier today, I tweeted two pictures of the Reuters tweet of the exact same story. The Reuters Pakistan office had tweeted one villager injured in Indian attack, and the Reuters India office had tweeted government sources claim 300 killed in India an attack on Pakistani territory.

It's the exact same story.

We know there is an election very soon in India and there is much speculation that the point of this airstrike was political. The message to go home was that we're not going to stand by and see our police killed by terrorists and not strike at Pakistan, as you know, India blames for this attack. How is it likely to play in India, as far as you know?

I certainly think that this is a winning electoral issue.

Many of us here in Pakistan believe that the sabre rattling and the aggression from India has less to do with Pakistan's connection to this event and more to do with the fact that there are electoral gains to be to be drawn from from continued stoking of the fire between these two countries by India.

The young man who did the suicide bombing on the convoy on Feb. 14 was a local Kashmiri. But the group Jaish-e-Mohammed has claimed responsibility, as we just mentioned. And this is a group that is understood to be based in Pakistan. So doesn't India have a legitimate claim to blame Pakistan for something where the group that seems to have orchestrated this campaign, and perhaps radicalize this young man, is actually based in Pakistani territory?

This is the Achilles heel of any argument that Pakistan makes. The JeM and [the Lashkar-e-Taiba] are the two groups that India wants Pakistan to basically terminate, and the long-term struggle that Pakistan seems to have in doing that is a constant irritant in their relationship.

But the original sin in the relationship are not these groups. The original sin in the relationship is the illegal occupation of Kashmir by India.

And unless, and until, that issue is resolved it's going to be very difficult for the Pakistani state or society to entirely be able to manage or suffocate the kinds of voices that end up going and supporting militant activity in occupied Kashmir.

But I certainly think that Pakistan can do a lot more to muzzle and suffocate the ability of these groups to recruit, raise finances and to have any kind of a voice.

As a Pakistani, and as somebody that's interested in broader peace, including peace with India, notwithstanding what's happening in Kashmir — those actions are things that Pakistan certainly needs to look at.

Written by Jeanne Armstrong and John McGill. Produced by Jeanne Armstrong. Q&A has been edited by length and clarity.

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