During bilateral sparring in February, India and Pakistan threatened to launch missiles at each other and only US officials’ interference helped defuse a bigger conflict, Reuters reports, citing unnamed sources.
According to sources in New Delhi, Islamabad and Washington, the threat emerged after Pakistan downed an Indian plane and captured its pilot following a dogfight between Pakistani and Indian warplanes over Kashmir.
The 27 February air battle came after a raid by Indian jet fighters on what New Delhi said was a terrorist camp in Pakistan. Islamabad denied the existence of any such camp in the area and claimed that the Indian bombs had exploded on an empty hillside.
The sources confirmed a specific Indian threat to use six missiles on targets inside Pakistan after the dogfight to support New Delhi’s new campaign of “counter terrorism”.
Pakistan reportedly responded by stating that it would counter any Indian missile attacks with "many more launches of its own".
“We said if you will fire one missile, we will fire three. Whatever India will do, we will respond three times to that,” Reuters cited an unnamed Pakistani minister as saying at the time.
Another source claimed that US security advisor John Bolton was on the phone with Indian National Security Adviser Ajit Doval on the night of 27 February and into the early hours of 28 February, in an attempt to defuse the situation.
Washington reportedly focused on securing the quick release of the Indian pilot and winning New Delhi’s assurance that it would scrap its threat to fire missiles. The pilot was handed over to India on 1 March, in what Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan said was a “peace gesture”.
“We made a lot of effort to get the international community involved in encouraging the two sides to de-escalate the situation because we fully realised how dangerous it was”, a senior Trump administration official was cited by Reuters as saying on condition of anonymity.
On February 28, US President Donald Trump, who was in Hanoi at the time trying to clinch an agreement with North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un over its nuclear program, told reporters that the India-Pakistan crisis is expected to end soon.
The statement came after Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov signalled Moscow’s readiness to mediate between India and Pakistan to try to calm tensions between the two nuclear powers.
He expressed hope that tensions could be de-escalated and that both countries would show restraint.