India and Pakistan should return to dialogue and Islamabad is willing to discuss any and all issues with New Delhi, said Prime Minister Imran Khan in a nationally televised address on Wednesday.
Addressing the spiraling situation between India and Pakistan following yesterday’s strike by the Indian Air Force in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa’s Balakot, Khan said he understood and sympathized with the sentiments of the victims of the Pulwama suicide attack that left 40 Indian soldiers dead. Claimed by Jaish-e-Mohammed, the attack was staged by a local and has been vehemently denied by Islamabad despite New Delhi claiming Pakistan was responsible.
“I know the pain of the people who have lost people or been injured,” said Khan, referring to the 70,000 casualties across Pakistan since the war on terror started following the events of September 11, 2001. “This is why we offered, immediately after the attack, to offer any support required by India in its investigation into the assault.”
Khan said Pakistan welcomed any evidence India might have, reiterating Islamabad’s principled policy against allowing its soil to be used by any militant groups to stage attacks on foreign nations. “I suspected, despite this offer, that India would take some action… I knew with elections looming, India might be compelled to act,” he added. However, he cautioned, no sovereign nation can tolerate baseless accusations and strikes on its soil without reacting.
“After the Indian strike yesterday, and after discussions with the military chiefs, we decided to wait before responding because we wanted to fully ascertain the circumstances of the strike,” he said. “Our plan was always to not inflict any damage or casualties. We just wanted to prove to India that if it could stage strikes on our soil, we could stage strikes on it as well.”
Pakistan on Wednesday, staged a strike on India’s side of the Line of Control. Army spokesman Maj. Gen. Asif Ghafoor said the strike had been conducted in broad daylight to send a clear message, adding that he hoped the situation would de-escalate now. He said Pakistan had shot down two Indian planes—one in Pakistan and one in India—and taken two pilots into custody. India’s Foreign Ministry confirmed a plane had been shot down and a pilot was missing in action, but claimed it had also shot down a Pakistani plane. Ghafoor denied any Pakistani aircraft had been lost.
Addressing India, Khan questioned where the two nations could go from their current tense standoff. “History shows us wars are always a result of miscalculation. No one knows where a war will go once it starts,” he said. “With the weaponry available to both nations, can we risk this kind of miscalculation?”
Khan said any conflict would quickly spiral out of the control of both himself and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. “I urge you [India], once again, to return to dialogue. We are ready to talk. Better sense should prevail.”