ISLAMABAD — Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi was stopped from attacking Pakistan by the United States and Britain once Pakistan informed them of its clear intention to hit back three times harder if its eastern neighbour violated its territorial integrity.
India was also warned by the US that the international powers would not be able to stop the confrontation from progressing into a full-blown nuclear war.
Well-placed sources based in Washington and London have shared information with The News that Indian Prime Minister Modi conducted a meeting with his three services chiefs for hours on February 27 in the wake of the suicide attack in Pulwama on February 14 killing at least 40 Central Reserve Police Force personnel. Modi and his generals reportedly “selected to hit at least nine targets inside Pakistan” with missiles and then “finalised” at least two cities as first targets. Government sources in Pakistan say the initial targets were most probably Karachi and Bahawalpur.
Pakistan’s elite intelligence agencies got hold of the details in time and informed the highest offices in the government following which Prime Minister Imran Khan chaired a meeting of the National Command Authority late on Wednesday, February 27. Established in February 2000, the NCA controls the government policy on nuclear weapons. Its members essentially include the Prime Minister, the Foreign, Defence and Interior ministers, Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee (CJCSC), three Services Chiefs, Director-General of Strategic Plans Division.
Sources claim that the Pakistani meeting discussed the Indian plan in detail and went on to select 12 Indian cities that were to be hit in retaliation to the Indian aggression. “All hits were to be of conventional weapons.” Pakistan decided to hit India three times harder. “If India were to hit Pakistan with one missile, Pakistan would have reciprocated with three – on three different cities inside India.”
Once the meeting firmed up its proposed action in case India went ahead with her plan, Islamabad informed the United States and the United Kingdom of its retaliatory strategy. They were clearly told that 12 Indian cities have been shortlisted for the purpose, the sources said.
“The United States not only conveyed the Pakistani message to India – of hitting them three times harder, they also told them that nobody would be able to stop them [Pakistan]. And that the next stage could be a nuclear war,” the sources said and added that the US warning was the “only thing that forced India to back off from trying what they had planned.”
Talking to The News, an influential cabinet minister has confirmed that the government was made aware of the Indian intention to attack Pakistan with missiles. “Our understanding was that the Indians were planning to hit our military targets – at least at three different locations.”
Well-placed Western sources are not ruling out the possibility of New Delhi also talking to Washington, London and a few other European capitals about plans to hit selected targets inside Pakistan. “It would be hard to say if the Indians had informed important world capitals of their intended plans. But as an important country in the region with strong relations with the West, there is a likelihood that they might have. After all, help from those capitals would have been a must to stop the confrontation from escalation,” said one of the key officials of CTD Advisors, a London-based strategic intelligence firm with a global presence. The official requested anonymity.
Indian fighter jets crossed into Pakistan for a few nautical miles on February 26 and quickly retreated when challenged by the Pakistan Air Force warplanes. They jettisoned their payload on their way back near Balakot in Khyber Pukhtunkhwa. A few pine trees were felled and a lot of dirt was dug up. One person was injured in the incident. India claimed to have hit the alleged training camps of the proscribed militant group, Jaish-e-Mohammed and killing over 300 “under-training terrorists”. All claims have since been challenged and proved wrong.
Pakistan denies the Indian allegations of complicity in the Pulwama attack and has been asking the world powers to take notice of the Indian aggression. Prime Minister Imran Khan has repeatedly said Pakistan would take the strictest possible action against any group involved in the incident if India provided “actionable intelligence”.
He informed a joint session of the Pakistani Parliament of his failed attempts to contact Prime Minister Modi and his government’s contact campaign with friendly countries to intervene to de-escalate the dangerously volatile nuclear stand-off between the two South Asian neighbours.