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India, Pak came close to firing missiles on Feb 27 India upped the ante after Varthaman’s capture, alerted top US officials

March 23, 2019 06:50 AM

COURTESY HT MARCH 23

Shishir Gupta, Rezaul H Laskar and Yashwant Raj letters@hindustantimes.com ■
India, Pak came close to firing missiles on Feb 27
India upped the ante after Varthaman’s capture, alerted top US officials
NEWDELHI/WASHINGTON: India and Pakistan came perilously close to firing missiles at each other on February 27, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi deciding to up the ante after the capture of MIG-21 Bison pilot Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman by Pakistan, and Research and Analysis Wing secretary Anil Dhasmana communicating to his Pakistan counterpart Inter Services Intelligence chief Lt Gen Asim Munir that there would be an escalation in the Indian offensive if the pilot was harmed.

Hindustan Times spoke to a key Cabinet Committee of Security (CCS) member, Indian and Pakistani diplomats, office of the US National Security Advisor (NSA), and intelligence officials to piece together some of the events on the day the fragile and uneasy relationship between the two neighbours almost reached breaking point.

According to people with direct knowledge of the matter in New Delhi and Washington, Dhasmana spoke to Munir about the pilot’s release. Wing Commander Varthaman was captured after he bailed out of his aircraft across the Line of Control, but not before he brought down a Pakistan Air Force F-16 that, along with other PAF aircraft, tried to attack positions within India on the morning of February 27 in the Nowshera

sector of Jammu. The two also discussed the Indian army’s deployment of 12 short-range surface-to-surface missile batteries in Rajasthan, the people added.

While the RAW chief talked to his ISI counterpart, National Security Adviser Ajit Doval told his US counterpart John Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo over a hotline on the same day that India was prepared for the worst if any bodily harm came to Wing Commander Varthaman. Both Doval and Dhasmana also spoke to their interlocutors in the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia so that they would impress on the Imran Khan government the need to release the pilot without any conditions.

A spokesperson for the White House declined to comment when asked if Doval conveyed to Bolton on February 27 of India’s readiness to launch a missile attack against Pakistan if the Indian Air Force pilot captured by Pakistan was harmed, and if the number of missiles to be used in such a strike was put at 12.

 
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