In hardball diplomacy almost unprecedented since the Indira Gandhi era, India has refused to negotiate with Pakistan on the captured Indian Air Force pilot Abhinandan Varthaman.

“There will be NO negotiation, NO deal over Abhinandan. We demand his unconditional, immediate and safe release. If Pakistan thinks it will use him as a bargaining chip, it will soon be disabused,” a top MEA source said on Thursday requesting anonymity. “If something happens to him, we will take action.”

What happened to wing commander Ajay Ahuja (who was killed by Pakistan military after being captured during the Kargil war in 1999) will not be acceptable, the official said.

Pakistan can’t force India to the dialogue table by using the captured pilot as leverage, according to the MEA source. While Pakistani media reported that Imran Khan was offering to open dialogue with PM Narendra Modi, the foreign ministry source said India would only consider talks once it sees “Immediate, credible verifiable evidence of its actions against terrorists. Let the Pakistan PM walk the talk, create an atmosphere for dialogue by cracking down on terrorists operating from their soil”.

Enough proof with Pakistan

He said every detail of Jaish-e-Mohammed’s involvement in the Pulwama terror attack that killed 44 CRPF men had been sent to Pakistan.

“Acting Pak high commissioner to India has been given a large dossier of Jaish camps, locations, intercepts and other proof. Every detail has been shared. They still pretend they have got nothing,” the official said.

Indian diplomats are fighting a grim battle against Pakistan’s systematic disinformation campaign.

“Pakistan is trying to set a fake narrative. It informed embassies in Islamabad that India was launching missile strikes, our naval ships are closing in, and Indian troops being amassed on the border,” the official said. “Their lie got nailed because all five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council — The US, UK, France, Russia and China — can see it. They have the wherewithal to figure that India’s Navy ships were actually retreating, there has been no amassing of troops or missile strikes.”

Pakistan’s fake narrative

On the other hand, the foreign ministry official said Pakistan was drumming up war hysteria by shutting out their airspace and calling off the Samjhauta Express train link between the two countries.

While India’s actions were focussed on hitting at the heart of Pak-sponsored terrorism, 20 Pakistani planes were dispatched towards India, and some of these crossed the Line of Control and tried to target India’s military installations. They narrowly missed, but their intentions were clear.

“What is Pakistan defending by its military actions? Terrorism?” asked the official.

Target: Maulana Masood

Indian officials expressed hope of getting Jaish chief Maulana Masood Azhar designated as a global terrorist. China had vetoed the move on earlier occasions, but India has sent a fresh appeal to the United Nation Security Council’s 1267 committee of 15 representatives. Most permanent members were in India’s favour, the sources said.

The proof of India’s diplomatic victory was also in the fact that not a single nation other than Pakistan has criticised the Balakot airstrikes. “Not even our neighbour’s friend,” said the official, hinting at China.