Congress President Rahul Gandhi on Tuesday was among several Opposition leaders who lauded the pre-dawn strike carried out by the Indian Air Force across the Line of Control. The operation by a dozen Mirage 2000 jets reportedly destroyed terror camps in Balakot in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province of Pakistan.
“I salute the pilots of the IAF,” Gandhi said in a tweet.
Samajwadi Party President Akhilesh Yadav and Nationalist Congress Party chief Sharad Pawar also praised the armed forces for the strike. “I salute the Indian Air Force and indeed all our Armed Forces,” tweeted Yadav, congratulating the IAF.
“Salute to the Indian Air Force for giving befitting reply to the terrorists operating from POK [Pakistan-occupied Kashmir]!” Pawar wrote on Twitter.
Rashtriya Janata Dal leader Tejashwi Yadav said the country was proud of its pilots and the Air Force. “We salute the bravery of our pilots and the Air Force,” he tweeted.
West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, who has been confronting the Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance on several issues, also praised the Air Force. “IAF also means India’s Amazing Fighters. Jai Hind,” tweeted the Trinamool Congress chief.
Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal tweeted, “I salute the bravery of Indian Air Force pilots who have made us proud by striking terror targets in Pakistan.”
Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh extended support for the action carried out by the armed forces on Tuesday morning. “The IAF strikes have sent the much needed signal to Pakistan and the terrorists it’s harbouring – don’t think you can get away with acts like the Pulwama attack,” he tweeted.
Mallikarjun Kharge, Congress leader in the Lok Sabha, said the party has always supported whatever action the armed forces of the country would take for its protection, ANI reported. “All of us will support them in unity, they are taking action against the terrorists in Pakistan,” he added. I congratulate them.”
Bahujan Samaj Party President Mayawati said the terror incidents in Pulwama, Uri and Pathankot could have been avoided if the government had earlier given the armed forces “a free hand” to act.
After the Pulwama attack on February 14, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had announced that security forces would be given a free hand and the government will give a strong reply to the perpetrators.
“The prime minister has now given the Army a free hand to take action in lieu of the martyrdom of the jawans of Pulwama,” Mayawati tweeted in Hindi. “If the decision was taken earlier by the Modi government, highly deplorable incidents like Pathankot, Uri and Pulwama would not have taken place and so many youths would not have been martyred.”
All India Majlis-e-Ittahadul Muslimeen chief Asaduddin Owaisi welcomed the government’s action, but said it was expected within two to three days of the Pulwama attack, ANI reported. “It is a step I was expecting the government to take a long time back,” he added. “Hope the government now goes after [Jaish-e-Mohammed chief] Masood Azhar and [Lashkar-e-Taiba founder] Hafiz Saeed.”
Confusion, however, prevailed over whether Balakot in Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa or Balakot in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir was the target of the strike.
According to unidentified military officials, the fighter jets bombed three locations in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir within 21 minutes, starting at 3.45 am, ThePrint reported. Balakot was bombed between 3.45 am and 3.53 am, a location in Muzaffarabad between 3.48 am and 3.55 am, and then one in Chakoti between 3.58 am and 4.04 am, they said. The officials added that the joint training camps of Jaish-e-Mohammed, Lashkar-e-Taiba and Hizbul Mujahideen in Balakot were targeted.
Urging restraint, former Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah said, “Unless we know which Balakote is being talked about by the Pakistani generals, it’s pointless speculating about what we may have and what fallout the airstrike will have.”
If the air strike targeted Balakot in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, it would be seen as a “significant strike” by IAF planes, said the National Conference leader. “However, if it’s Balakote in Poonch sector, along the LoC it’s a largely symbolic strike because at this time of the year forward launch and militant camps are non-functional,” tweeted Abdullah.
But Abdullah later seemed to be convinced that Balakote in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa was hit. “That is a strike deep inside Pakistan and it is hugely embarrassing for them,” he tweeted. “After Abbotabad [where Osama bin Laden was killed] the line they took was ‘we are primed to look East to prevent any Indian attacks and that’s how the Americans got through’,” Abdullah added. “So where were they looking now?”
He said India and Pakistan have entered a whole new paradigm following the Balakote air strike. However, the National Conference leader added that it was now India’s obligation to ensure that people living near the Line of Control are not caught in any Pakistani response.
Union minister Prakash Javadekar said the strikes were a “necessary step” by the Air Force, NDTV reported. “The armed forces have shown great bravery, congratulations to them,” said the Human Resource Development minister.
Saluting the “meticulous operation”, BJP national general secretary Ram Madhav described the country’s armed forces as “world class”.
“Every Indian who had the pain and anguish of the martyrdom of our forces is greatly relieved and delighted this morning,” Madhav said. “It is the political will of our PM and team that made all the difference.”