Imran Khan Says Pakistan Will Release Indian Pilot, Seizing Publicity In Showdown
In public, Mr. Khan, a former international cricket star who became prime minister last summer, has tried to appear calm. Early in the crisis, he called for de-escalation, and promised to investigate any evidence linking Pakistan to Jaish-e-Mohammed’s bombings, if India would only share the evidence.
And on Wednesday, even as he claimed that Pakistan had had no choice but to retaliate for India’s airstrikes around Balakot the day before, he also expressed concern that the two countries must calm hostilities rather than risk nuclear war.
Behind the calm exterior, though, is the widespread belief that Pakistan is in no shape right now to wage a major war. Its economy is in deep trouble, with the country running out of hard currency. And most other nations — including China, which has traditionally taken Pakistan’s side in disputes — have pressed Pakistan to take more action against terrorist groups.
In the propaganda war of the past few days, both countries have been guilty of missteps. Pakistan maintained for a day that it had shot down two Indian fighter jets and captured two pilots, only later revising it down to one on each count.
But it is India that has suffered the more glaring contradictions. The government has yet to offer any evidence publicly for its claim that it downed a Pakistan plane, which Indian officials say crashed beyond their border. Likewise, India has offered no proof that its initial airstrike on Tuesday killed “a very large number” of “terrorists, trainers, senior commanders and groups of jihadis,” as India’s foreign secretary has claimed.
Videos of a crushed building filled with bodies that soon began circulating widely on social media in India were quickly debunked. The images were not from the airstrike but from an earthquake in Pakistan more than 10 years ago.
This is beginning to take its toll on Mr. Modi, who is up for election in about two months and who until recently seemed invincible. But in some sectors, he is now being accused of military adventurism. One family of a fallen soldier called the government a liar.