NEW DELHI — Indian warplanes conducted airstrikes in the Pakistan-controlled side of Kashmir on Tuesday, Pakistani officials said, in an escalation of tensions between the nuclear-armed nations after a suicide bombing against Indian troops in the disputed region this month.
If confirmed, it would be the first time that Indian aircraft had crossed the Kashmir Line of Control to strike in years. But it was unclear what, if anything, the attack jets hit on the Pakistani side, raising the possibility that India was making a calculated bet to assuage public anger but minimize the risk of a major Pakistani military response.
A spokesman for Pakistan’s armed forces, Maj. Gen. Asif Ghafoor, on Tuesday posted on Twitter four images of a forested area pockmarked with small craters and debris, which he said was the site of Indian airstrikes.
The Indian Foreign Ministry confirmed in a news briefing that a strike had occurred but would give no further details. The Indian news media, quoting local military officials, said Indian Mirage 2000 fighter jets dropped bombs on a “terrorist camp” in Pakistan-controlled territory at 3:30 a.m. local time.
No casualties or damage were reported, General Ghafoor said. The planes dropped the bombs near Balakot, which is close to the disputed border of India and Pakistan.
“Facing timely and effective response from Pakistan Air Force released payload in haste while escaping which fell near Balakot,” General Ghafoor wrote.
Tensions have escalated in the Kashmir Valley since a Feb. 14 attack by a suicide bomber who drove an explosive-filled vehicle into a convoy of Indian troops. At least 40 soldiers were killed, the deadliest attack in the region in decades. India blamed Pakistan for the assault.
Though India and Pakistan routinely shell each other across what is known as the Line of Control, this is the first time in years that either side has deployed warplanes to venture into disputed territory.
Western security officials have raised questions about the existence of a large-scale training camp, saying that Pakistan no longer runs such camps and that militant groups are spread out in small groups around the country.
Analysts and diplomats in New Delhi said the targets of the Indian airstrikes were unclear, as any terrorist groups operating along the border would have cleared out in recent days after Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India vowed retaliation over the Kashmir attack.
Residents have also fled the area as hundreds of Kashmiris have been arrested and Indian troops have moved more troops into the region.
The Indian attack is likely to draw a response from Pakistan, analysts say.
“The Pakistanis are bound to react, conventionally and not through a proxy like a militant group,” said Rahul Bedi, an analyst at the London-based Jane’s Information Group, which tracks the defense industry. “Where they react and when is something that only Pakistanis know. This is a dangerous situation, as this brinkmanship can escalate quickly.”
The American government has typically been a broker between India and Pakistan, conducting shuttle diplomacy in similarly heated situations. But President Trump has taken a hard line on Pakistan while drawing closer to India since coming to office in 2017. Observers fear the situation may escalate further in the absence of a third nation tamping down tensions.
Early last year, Mr. Trump cut some $1.3 billion in military assistance to Pakistan because of the country’s support of terrorist groups. Pakistan’s military denies that it engages terrorist groups to achieve its defense and foreign policy objectives.
India controls much of Kashmir, while Pakistan controls a smaller part of the region, which was left in an undetermined state after the British partition of India in 1947. It has seen decades of violence from militants seeking independence.
In the run-up to Indian elections this spring, and with Mr. Modi facing a fierce a re-election fight, voters have demanded that New Delhi respond to the Kashmir attack with force against Pakistan.
“What they hit is speculation for now — they say they hit a terrorist camp, but a lot of intelligence sources say those camps in Pakistan had been cleaned out in recent days,” Mr. Bedi said. “This is more political symbolism than anything else. Mr. Modi had to show some demonstrable action on India’s part, ahead of elections.”