In an about-face, Indian foreign minister Sushma Swaraj admitted on Thursday that its so-called air strike in the Balakot area of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa did not cause any casualties – military or civilian.
“No Pakistani soldier or citizen died in the air strike carried out by the Indian Air Force (IAF) across the border in Balakot,” she said while addressing an election gathering in the city of Ahmedabad.
New Delhi claimed on February 26 that the IAF jets had carried out what it called ‘preemptive strike’ in Balakot against a camp of Jaish-e-Muhammad (JeM) – the group it alleges was behind the February 14 killing of its 40 soldiers in the Pulwama area of Indian Occupied Kashmir (IOK).
The same evening, Indian Foreign Secretary Vijay K Gokhale boasted at a news conference that the “biggest training camp of Jaish-e-Muhammad” was targeted by the IAF in which “a very large number of JeM terrorists, trainers, senior commanders and groups of jihadis who were being trained for fidayeen action were eliminated.”
The jingoistic Indian media readily bought the claim and started parroting the official version, even though Pakistan quickly allowed local and foreign media access to the site where IAF jets had “jettisoned their payloads”.
Independent foreign experts later contradicted the Indian claim with the help of satellite imagery which showed no infrastructural damage at the site. The Pakistani military took foreign military attaches and international media on a tour of the area to expose India’s pack of lies because the only compound in the vicinity is a madrassah which stood intact.
Swaraj claimed that the IAF had been instructed not to harm any Pakistani citizen or soldier and solely target the JeM camp itself.
A day after the Balakot incursion, Pakistan Air Force (PAF) jets carried out strikes in IOK and then shot down two IAF warplanes in dogfights, capturing one of the pilots alive, much to the embarrassment of New Delhi.
India claimed that its air force had also downed an F-16 jet in the dogfight – a claim that it couldn’t substantiate with evidence and which has been shred to pieces by international aviation experts and independent journalists.
Reacting to India’s about-face on Balakot, the Pakistani military’s spokesperson hit out at the Indian government for lying to the international community and the Indian public about the airstrike.
“Finally the truth is out under ground reality compulsions. Hopefully, so will be about false Indian claims of the surgical strike carried out on Pakistani soil in 2016,” Maj Gen Asif Ghafoor, DG ISPR, wrote on his official Twitter handle. “Better late than never,” he added.