India will not share proof of militant deaths in Kashmir strikes, minister says

Pakistan says Indian air strikes were ineffective and did not cause the casualties that New Delhi claimed

epa07405698 An Indian paramilitary soldier stands guard, after the Joint Resistance Leadership (JRL) called for peaceful political protests, near Kashmir's grand mosque in the downtown area of Srinagar, Kashmir, 01 March 2019.  EPA/FAROOQ KHAN
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India says it will not share proof that a "very large number" of militants were killed in air strikes near the disputed border in Kashmir last week, a top Indian minister said on Saturday.

New Delhi said its bombing on Tuesday was part of a counter-terrorism operation that killed hundreds of extremists hiding in neighbouring Pakistan.

But Indian Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, one of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's closest allies, said India would not share proof that the strike was on a terrorist training camp.

"The armed forces must have, and our security and intelligence agencies must have, a full leeway in dealing with situations, and if anybody wants operational details to be made public …he certainly does not understand the system," Mr Jaitley said at a conference organised by the India Today media group.

Pakistan says last week's strikes were both ineffective — claiming they hit an empty hillside — and an unprecedented breach of the Line of Control, the first in years. They chose to retaliate with their own aerial mission on Wednesday.

At the time, India's foreign ministry argued that instead of taking "credible action against terrorist entities … Pakistan has acted with aggression against India".

During the breaches of the border last week, three planes were shot down over disputed Kashmir, prompting an urgent global effort to deescalate the conflict between the nuclear-armed rivals.

The United States's embassy in Islamabad told Reuters on Sunday it was "seeking information" on whether Pakistan used American-made F-16 fighter jets to shoot down two Indian planes.

"We are aware of these reports and are seeking more information," a US Embassy spokesperson said. "We take all allegations of misuse of defense articles very seriously."

If the F-16 jets were used, it might have violated the terms of sale of the planes to Pakistan, but Islamabad said it did not use F-16s while shooting down the Indian warplanes, which they argue was an act of self-defense.

Pakistani airspace continued to reopen on Sunday. Some flights from Lahore airport, the nearest major airport to Kashmir, resumed, while Karachi, Islamabad, Peshawar and Quetta airports were running their normal schedule.

Prime Minister Imran Khan gave orders for Pakistanis trapped in Gulf countries, especially Saudi Arabia, to be given priority returning home, according to The Dawn newspaper.

Tensions between India and Pakistan continued on Saturday, as both countries exchanged mortar and artillery fire on the border of disputed Kashmir, killing at least seven, five of which were civilians.

The exchange of fire comes after weeks of tensions, sparked by a suicide bombing that targeted an Indian paramilitary police convoy by a Pakistan-based terror group and killed 44 people.

In this image made from video provided by PTV,  Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman walks to cross the border into India, in Wagah, Pakistan, Friday, March 1, 2019. Pakistani officials have handed an Indian pilot captured from a downed plane over to India at the border crossing at Wagah in a "gesture of peace" promised by Prime Minister Imran Khan amid a dramatic escalation with India this week over the disputed region of Kashmir. The pilot was expected to travel to New Delhi for a debriefing with top Indian officials about the time he spent captive. (PTV via AP)
Pakistani officials have handed an Indian pilot captured from a downed plane over to India at the border crossing at Wagah in a "gesture of peace". PTV/AP

On Friday, the conflict seemed to be reaching a resolution as Pakistan returned Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman under the orders of Pakistan's Prime Minister Imran Khan.

The move prompted Pakistanis to call for their prime minister to be given the Nobel Peace Prize. But India has been less impressed – accusing Pakistan of breaching the Geneva Convention.

Much of Commander Varthaman's three-day stint as a Pakistani prisoner of war was broadcast on social media. Videos of his capture, transportation, and release were shared on Twitter.

Commander Varthaman was filmed thanking the Pakistani army for treating him well, while criticising the Indian media for stoking war, a video which was quickly claimed as forced.

Omar Abdullah, a former chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir state, said the video tainted Pakistan's gesture to return the pilot so quickly.

"Sadly the image you paint for us is marred terribly by the video he's forced to record just before you sent him back," Mr Abdullah said on Twitter.

"That high moral ground you had bequeathed to yourselves slipped at the end."

On Twitter in Pakistan, #PakSymbolofPeace was trending, while in India the top trend was #PakistanJihad.