New Delhi: When Pakistan Air Force fighter jets dropped a bomb near an Indian defence installation in Jammu and Kashmir on 27 February — a day after the Balakot strike by the Indian Air Force — Islamabad claimed that this was done to display its capability and not target the Indian military.
The H-4 Stand-Off Weapon, a precision-guided glide bomb, dropped by the PAF fell into the compound of the Indian Army Brigade Headquarters in the Rajouri sector, making it a close call.
This call, ThePrint has learnt, was much closer than known earlier as two top Indian Army commanders — Northern Army Commander Lt Gen. Ranbir Singh and 16 Corps Commander Lt Gen. Paramjit Singh — had stepped out of the Brigade Headquarters “minutes before” the bomb fell.
The two commanders, top sources in the defence and security establishment told ThePrint, had left for a nearby post when the PAF bomb fell into the compound of the Brigade Headquarters. This post was less than 700 metres from the spot where the bomb struck.
The Northern Command and the Indian Army headquarters did not respond to requests for comment from ThePrint for this report.
‘Real plan of PAF’
The PAF fighter jets were chased away by the IAF after a dogfight which saw IAF Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman being shot down and captured by Pakistan. He was released after nearly 60 hours in Pakistani captivity as the two countries pulled back from the brink of war.
The new information suggests that they may have escalated to an even more serious turn of events had the PAF bomb hit the Brigade Headquarters when the top commanders were inside.
After the dogfight between the two air forces, Pakistani military spokesperson Maj. Gen. Asif Ghafoor claimed that the PAF had intentionally dropped bombs near important military installations (and not at them) to show their capability.
On 29 April, Ghafoor said Pakistan knew who was at the Brigade Headquarters when “they intentionally dropped the bombs near it”.
Indian defence sources, however, told ThePrint that radio chatter picked up by Indian forces made it clear that the real plan of the PAF was to hit Indian military assets. The sudden appearance of IAF MiG-21s from across the Pir Panjal range thwarted the plan, they said.
At the same time, the sources said the presence of the senior commanders in the area was a matter of chance and something Pakistan couldn’t have known. Northern Army Commander Lt Gen. Singh was there to review the situation near the Line of Control amid suspicions that Pakistan would try and respond to the Balakot air strike.
Indian Army sources explained Ghafoor’s 29 April claim saying Pakistan may have learnt about the visit of the top commanders to the Rajouri Brigade Headquarters as the Northern Command had tweeted news about the visit on 28 February.
#ArmyCdrNC visited troops deployed in forward areas along LC in #Rajouri Sector; reviewed operational preparedness; complimented all ranks for their high morale & aggressive domination of LC. @adgpi @PIB_India @SpokespersonMoD pic.twitter.com/iObNBlbfqk
— NorthernComd.IA (@NorthernComd_IA) February 28, 2019
An earlier version of the report dated Pakistan military spokesperson Maj. Gen. Asif Ghafoor’s remark about Brigade Headquarters to February. He made the statement in April.