Australia asks India, Pak to exercise restraint following IAF airstrikes

Canberra: Australia on Tuesday urged both India and Pakistan to exercise restraint following the airstrikes by the Indian Air Force (IAF) on a terror camp in Balakot in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province in Pakistan.

This came after India carried out air strikes deep inside Pakistan, destroying a major camp of Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) and eliminating a “large number” of terrorists, including top commanders, of the terror group which attacked CRPF convoy in Pulwama on February 14.

Amid heightened tensions between the two countries, Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi said that Islamabad will respond to any “uncalled aggression” from New Delhi and warned India to be prepared for any “events of eventualities”.

Responding to the development, Australia’s Foreign Minister Marise Payne said in a statement, “Australia urges both sides to exercise restraint, avoid any action which would endanger peace and security in the region and engage in dialogue to ensure that these issues are resolved peacefully.”

“The Australian government is concerned about relations between India and Pakistan following the horrific terrorist attack in Jammu and Kashmir on 14 February, which Australia has condemned,” she added.

However, Payne urged Pakistan to take “urgent and meaningful action against terrorist groups in its territory, including JeM which has claimed responsibility for the February 14 bombing, and Lashkar-e-Taiba.”

“Pakistan must do everything possible to implement its own proscription of Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM). It can no longer allow extremist groups the legal and physical space to operate from its territory,” she said.

These steps would make a substantial contribution to easing tensions and resolving the underlying causes of conflict,” Payne underlined.

Echoing similar sentiments, the European Union (EU), also urged both India and Pakistan to exercise restraint.

“We’re following very closely the current developments between India and Pakistan. We remain in contact with both countries and what we believe is essential, is that all exercise maximum restraint and avoid further escalation of tensions, said EU spokesperson Maja Kocijancic.

In the swift operation, launched at around 3.30 am and completed within minutes, 12 Mirage-2000 fighter jets belonging to the IAF pounded the training centre, housing around 300 terrorists, in Balakot area of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province with six bombs while SU-30 combat aircraft maintained air superiority to ward off any retaliation by the Pakistan Air Force, sources said.

The camp, located in a forest area atop a hill, was headed by JeM chief Masood Azhar’s brother-in-law Yusuf Azhar alias Ustad Gauri, who was involved in the 1999 hijack of Indian Airlines plane IC-814 and was on Interpol lookout notice since 2000.

The casualty figure of the terrorists is very high as the JeM had shifted its entire cadre to this camp from the launching pads along the Line of Control (LoC), fearing surgical strike-type response from India in the aftermath of Pulwama attack, sources said about first such action by India.

A large number of JeM terrorists, including top commanders, trainers and those terrorists who were to be the ‘fidayeen’ (suicide attackers) were eliminated in the “non-military” air strike, India’s Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale told the media while officially disclosing information about the air strike, hours after the action.

Gokhale said the “pre-emptive” strike by India had become absolutely necessary as there was credible information that JeM, which recently carried out the terror attack in Pulwama, was planning further attacks in this country.