The airstrike by Indian Air Force on Balakot terrorist camps in Pakistan on February 26 is considered as a watershed moment in India’s response to cross-border terrorism. However, while Pakistan has always maintained that the airstrike did no real damage, naysayers in India too doubted its impact. Now fresh details have emerged in this regard with a report by Italian journalist Francesca Marino, putting all such doubts to rest.
Quoting reliable sources, Francesca Marino has claimed that the airstrike killed anywhere between 130 and 170 Jaish-e-Mohammad terrorists on the spot while another 20 succumbed to wounds later. The dead include 11 trainers, two of whom were from Afghanistan.
Within hours of the strike, Pakistan Army personnel reached the spot and the injured were transported to a Harkat-ul-Mujahideen camp in Shinkiari for treatment. Francesca Marino also says about 45 are still under treatment and those who have recovered are yet to be released from the Army custody.
Marino’s report claims that the families of the dead were given compensation in order to prevent leaking of news on casualties in airstrike.
According to the journalist, the camp area is out of bound for even local police as it is still under the control of Pakistan Army. And the freshly made signboard at the foothill now points to the presence of Taleem-ul-Quran atop the hill, instead of any link to the Jaish.
On February 14, a Kashmir-born Jaish terrorist carried out a suicide attack on the convoy of Indian security personnel, killing 40 CRPF jawans at Pulwama in Jammu and Kashmir. Indian Air Force responded to the dastardly attack by conducting airstrike on Jaish camp in Balakot.
India has also succeeded in getting the support of big nations to get Jaish chief Masood Azhar on the UN Security black list. The UN body proscribed Azhar a global terrorist, on May 1.
Balakot hilltop in Pakistan (Image credit: UttamHindu)
Pakistani authorities on Wednesday opened the facility, ostensibly a madrasa, on the hilltop of Balakot to a group of journalists of foreign media houses, as well as foreign diplomats, a good 43 days after the airstrike by Indian Air Force (IAF).
Indian Air Force on February 26 crossed over the international border with Pakistan and pounded Jaish-e-Mohammad terrorist camp atop Balakot hill. The government said the action was taken after intelligence inputs revealed that Jaish was training suicide bombers in the facility there to carry out terror attacks on Indian soil.
Earlier on February 14, a Jaish terrorist rammed an explosives laden vehicle into the convoy of CRPF jawans, killing 40 of them in Pulwama in Jammu and Kashmir.
Pakistan claimed no real damage to the facility or people from the airstrike, but prevented foreign journalists from reaching hilltop. Finally, Pakistan’s military organised a trip for the group consisting of journalists and foreign diplomats.
BBC Urdu reported that the group was flown in a helicopter from Islamabad up to the base of the hill. Many in the group reached hill top after trekking about 90 minutes, climbing steep slopes on the way. They were shown some craters supposedly created by the misled missiles in the IAF airstrike.
However, they were not allowed enough time to make fair assessment of the impact of the airstrike. Their movements were restricted to the main building of the madrasa where about 100 children were seen reciting passages from the Quran, rhythmically swaying their heads back and forth.
Some of the diplomats said giving a restricted access after six weeks made it difficult draw any definite conclusion.
India’s Defense Minister Nirmala Sitaraman responded to the visit with a cryptic remark Pakistan needed 40 days to whitewash the facility. Here is her tweet:
Nirmala Sitharaman: ‘Pakistan needed 40 days to take journalists (to Balakot)… they can whitewash’ | India News, The Indian Express https://t.co/aOwuUxeBCE