Pakistan Defence Minister Parvez Khattark and Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi faced a tough time at their joint press conference in Islamabad on the Indian Air Force air strike at Balakot when Pakistani journalists asked them the reasons for the tardy response of the Pakistan Air Force (PAF).
Khattak and Qureshi stuck to the Pakistani narrative that the IAF fighter aircraft only intruded 4-5 km inside Pakistan air space and that when they were challenged by PAF aircraft they returned back to Indian air space. However, the defence minister was repeatedly asked about the failure of the PAF to intercept IAF aircraft with the result that the foreign minister stepped in to answer the questions directed at him.
One Pakistani journalist even asked if there was a tacit understanding between the Pakistan Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa and the Air Chief Marshal Mujahid Anwar Khan to allow IAF to enter Pakistan. “Last evening our Army Chief visited the Air HQs. Was there an agreement to let them come 4-5 km inside. Because while you claim they came in just this distance the reports coming in say that they went in quite far. Why were our aircraft late? Why were Indians allowed to escape?” asked another journalist.
A bristling foreign minister said he would answer this question. “That is an irresponsible statement that you have made. The Army Chief and Air Chief will not allow something like that. Let’s be very clear about that. Our aircraft were not late. We were absolutely ready and they are always ready to face the challenge. Do not underestimate their ability. We have our own sense of timing. We will not be sucked in by what others do. We will act, not react.”
Speaking about reports that the IAF had jammed the air defence systems of PAF, the defence minister said this was a wrong notion and had PAF been caught unaware they would not have scrambled their jets.
Khattak said the PAF was ready. “However since it was night time so it could not be fathomed what the damage was. They waited for that. Now we have a clear direction and if in future there will be something of this sort then action will be taken. There are some things which we cannot tell here. But response will definitely be given,” he said.
Here again, Qureshi came to the defence minister’s aid and said the PAF was already airborne to challenge the IAF jets. “We were ready for all eventualities and the plan was a multi-dimensional intrusion which was tried. I cannot give details. They were thwarted by the timely intervention of PAF. They entered at 2:55 am and at 2:58 pm they went back after PAF scrambled. From the LoC itself they turned back because of the alertness of the PAF,” he said.
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The ministers were again questioned that while motivational songs were being played on Pakistan TV channels the policy of the Pakistan government appeared to be that ‘abke maar ke dekh’ (try hitting me once again). “How is it that not even a single Indian aircraft even got a scratch on them? Why were they not shot down? Will there be full-scale war or is it ruled out?” a journalist asked.
To this, Qureshi replied: “You are a Pakistani and I have a request for you. Pakistan’s leadership, military or political, has the ability to read, gauge and respond to the intentions of India. That is the test of leadership. Escalation was not our aim nor it is. We have always talked about diffusion. It is our right to respond to aggression and the nation will not be disappointed,” he said.
He added that the situation was very delicate at this stage and he did not want to say anything irresponsible which could lead to a deterioration of the situation.