New Delhi: Pakistan’s military spokesman, Major General Asif Ghafoor, has warned India of an escalated response. “It is your turn now. Get ready to be surprised,” he said. ‘‘The response will come differently,” he added. But it would come at a time and point of Pakistan’s choosing, which would be decided by the military and civil leadership. “As a matter of fact it has already been decided,” the spokesperson said.

In a veiled threat, Ghafoor also said that Prime Minister Imran Khan has called a meeting of the National Command Authority, which oversees the nation’s nuclear weapons programme. He added for effect, “Please understand what NCA means”. Earlier, accusing India of airspace incursion, Pakistan claimed that there were no casualties in the pre-dawn strike.

Ghafoor even said the Pakistan air force jets had scrambled to respond, forcing the Indian aircraft to “release [their] payload in haste, while escaping.” An aircraft has to empty its payload to fly back fast. He also denied that IAF jets were present inside the Pakistani airspace for 21 minutes.

“Almighty Allah is all powerful. Let India come and stay in Pakistani airspace for 21 minutes. We will see what will happen next,” he added with a flourish. Experts in the neighbouring country said Pakistan’s response could range from hitting Indian artillery positions along the Line of Control to taking “a more escalatory position” and launching similar airstrikes on Indian military targets.

However, despite the bluster, Islamabad has limited options on its table. Sources said that India’s strike was only against terror pads and civilians and military installations were carefully avoided during the bombing. Pakistan has no such targets to attack and if it hits civilian areas, it will be full-fledged war.

A strike against civilian and military targets in India will also be seen as a disproportionate response to what India has done, which was strictly meant to dismantle terror infrastructure. Pakistan can only retaliate by mobilizing its army, which cannot be done overnight.

Also, the higher reaches are snowbound and movement on ground is not possible. However, Indian armed forces are on a high alert to deal with any response from Pakistan, sources said. Al Jazeera TV channel said the Indian government was under a great deal of pressure to act in the wake of the Pulwama attack.

It said this attack was expected and one of the reasons it was delayed was the visit of the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to the region. The TV channel said a special meeting of the National Security Committee chaired by Imran Khan was held at his office in Islamabad and attended by the ministers of foreign affairs, defence and finance, the chairman, joint chiefs of staff committee, and other civil and military officials.

“The forum strongly rejected Indian claim of targeting an alleged terrorist camp near Balakot and the claim of heavy casualties. Once again, Indian government has resorted to a selfserving, reckless and fictitious claims,” the prime minister’s office said in a statement.

The forum concluded that India has committed uncalled for aggression to which Pakistan shall respond at the time and place of its choosing. Hassan Akbar, director at the Islamabad-based Jinnah Institute think-tank, termed the attacks “a very provocative and aggressive action by India”.

“They did drop payload in various sectors, including in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, and this constitutes a serious violation of Pakistan’s airspace and sovereignty.” GLOBAL FORAS Pakistan is more likely to raise the matter at international forums.

Islamabad would also take international media to the area of the said strikes, but when the weather is fine. “Pakistan will take the international media to the area of strikes. Helicopters are being readied. Right now, the weather is bad, but we will fly when the weather permits,” the Foreign Minister was quoted as saying by ANI.

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