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India does not expect any escalation: Swaraj

At party briefing, leaders advise restraint on Articles 35A, 370

The Opposition parties asked pointed questions of the government at a briefing of all political parties on Tuesday morning’s air strikes on terror camps in Pakistan, and requested it to ensure that passions were not whipped up on contentious issues such as Articles 35A and 370 of the Constitution.

The meeting, chaired by External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, was attended by Home Minister Rajnath Singh and Finance Minister Arun Jaitley. India’s High Commissioner to Pakistan Ajay Bisaria and Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale were present. Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman and the Chief of the Air Staff, B.S. Dhanoa, were not present.

Ms. Swaraj circulated the Foreign Secretary’s earlier statement, and reasserted that it was a “non-military strike on terror targets” and India did not expect any military escalation.

The Opposition parties asked Mr. Bisaria on the likely Pakistani response. “He told us that Pakistan was initially in denial, but they will try to be belligerent. He informed that tomorrow [Wednesday] a meeting of Pakistan’s nuclear command has been called, and claimed that it is only a “sabre-rattling” measure for the international and domestic audience,” a senior Opposition leader said. The Opposition questioned the government on why Air Force and Army officials were not present. They pointed out that the briefing after the surgical strikes had high-ranking Air Force and Army officials who gave specific information about the location of the strikes using maps.

CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury, according to sources, asked the government to specify which “Balakot” was struck. There are two locations, one in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir and another in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

The Home Minister said the site hit was in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and the jets entered nearly 80 miles (128 km) inside Pakistan air space across the Line of Control.

Parties doubtful

The Opposition parties questioned this claim. “It sounds very unrealistic that they entered so many miles inside, but the government did not respond to our question,” a senior Opposition leader said.

Former J&K Chief Minister Omar Abdullah flagged the “panic” in the Kashmir Valley and the apprehension of a possible war. He said people were stocking up on food items and there was a fuel shortage. He urged the government to relocate the people on the LoC who could be impacted in case of any retaliatory action by Pakistan. Mr. Abdullah said the terror attack by JeM was to ensure that Kashmir did not vote with the rest of the nation and therefore the government should not fall into this trap.

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