Government on Tuesday briefed senior party leaders on the air strike targeting Jaish-e-Mohammed terror camp inside Pakistan even as the Opposition leaders sought clarifications about the exact location where Indian forces targeted.
Neither Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman nor senior Air Force officers attended the all-party meeting which saw the attendance of External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, Home Minister Rajnath Singh and Finance Minister Arun Jaitley besides Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale and top officials.
There were no visual presentation or briefing by Air Force officers about the Balakot strike at the meeting unlike the briefing during the surgical strikes in 2016, sources said.
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Sources said the parties were unison in congratulating the Air Force for successfully conducting the air strike and sending a strong signal to Pakistan.
Congress' Ghulam Nabi Azad was the first to speak after Swaraj and others from the government side elaborated that there was "no question of a military escalation with Pakistan" as India conducted a "non-military, anti-terror" operation to pre-empt a strike by the terror outfit, which carried out the February 14 Pulwama attack.
Azad told the meeting that it was a "clean operation" where no civilians were killed and that his party supported security forces in their endeavour to finish terrorism coming into Indian from outside. Union Minister Ramdas Athawale and BJD's Barthruhari Mahtab spoke after him and echoed Azad.
At the meeting, sources said, the question of exact location of the target was raised following contradicting reports about Balakot. One Balakot was in Pakistan-Occupied-Kashmir while the other was in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
As government side emphasised that the location of the strike was 80 miles from the Line of Control indicating that it was in Pakistan territory, sources said CPI(M) General Secretary Sitaram Yechury noted that it “sounded unrealistic”, as any such attack would attract an immediate interruption from the Pakistan side.
When leaders insisted on the location, sources said initially one of the senior ministers sought to talk about the historical importance of the location. The Home Minister then intervened to say “andarwali”, to suggest that India struck inside Pakistan territory.
The absence of Air Force officials to brief the leaders were also raised in the meeting with sources saying the leaders pointing to Singh chairing a meeting on surgical strikes after Uri attack where a video presentation was held and senior military officials briefing them.
The Ministers said this was a “secret operations”, which was countered by Opposition leaders.
National Conference's Omar Abdullah told the meeting that Pakistan is “unpredictable” and India should be alert. “They want instability in India. They do not want Kashmir to vote with India. Elections need to be held. Don't fall into Pakistan's trap,” Abdullah said. When called to speak, Yechury had asked him to speak first as they wanted to hear him first.
Questions were also posed to Indian High Commissioner to Pakistan Ajay Bisaria, who briefed the leaders about the likely response of the neighbouring country. Sources said Bisaria told them that Pakistan was indulging in “sabre rattling” as it wanted international attention.
Sources said India has a feeling that Islamabad will “not escalate” though it has called a meeting chaired by Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan.
On questions about the casualty and reports about the killing of JeM founder Mazood Azhar's brother-in-law Yusuf Azhar in the air strikes, the government told the leaders they do not have any number or the identity of those killed. They told the leaders that they can only say that Yusuf Azhar led the camp.