US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has urged India and Pakistan to avoid “further military activity” following a dramatic escalation in tensions between the two South Asian neighbours.
His comments on Tuesday came a day after Pakistan said it reserved the right to respond to Indian air raids that struck near the northern Pakistani village of Jaba, located about 10km west of the border with Pakistan-administered Kashmir, and 60km from the Line of Control that divides Indian- and Pakistan-administered Kashmir.
Separately, four people, including two children, were killed and seven others wounded on Tuesday in an exchange of fire between Indian and Pakistani troops in Pakistan-administered Kashmir’s district of Kotli, according to officials.
Amid the rising tensions, Pompeo said he held separate conversations with the foreign ministers of India and Pakistan.
“I expressed to both ministers that we encourage India and Pakistan to exercise restraint, and avoid escalation at any cost,” Pompeo said in a statement issued in Washington, DC, on Tuesday.
“I also encouraged both ministers to prioritise direct communication and avoid further military activity,” he added.
On Tuesday, India’s Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale said the “non-military pre-emptive action” targeted a training camp for armed group Jaish-e-Muhammad (JeM), which claimed a suicide attack earlier this month that killed 42 Indian security forces personnel and brought tensions between the neighbours to a boil.
“In this operation, a very large number of JeM terrorists, trainers, senior commanders and groups of jihadis who were being trained for [suicide] action were eliminated,” Gokhale told reporters in New Delhi.
Pakistan, however, disputed the claim, saying that India was “lying” and that no casualties occurred from the attacks.
“There is not even a single brick in the debris,” Pakistani military spokesman Major General Asif Ghafoor said at a press conference at military headquarters in Rawalpindi.
“If there was any infrastructure there, then there would be some debris. They say [hundreds of] people were killed – I say that if there were even 10 people, there would be some bodies there.”
Ghafoor invited foreign diplomats and media to visit the area to verify Pakistan’s version of events.
Witnesses and local journalists told Al Jazeera that the Indian munitions appeared to attack a mostly uninhabited forest near the mountain village of Jaba.
“The payload was dropped near the forest in Batrasi, it is totally uninhabited,” said Khalid Chaudhry, a local journalist. Two other journalists at the scene corroborated that version of events.
Following the air raids, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan chaired a meeting of the country’s National Security Committee, which includes both civilian and military leadership.
Khan also called a special meeting of Pakistan’s National Command Authority – the country’s top nuclear decision-making body – on Wednesday.
“Pakistan shall respond at the time and place of its choosing,” a government statement said.