An Indian contingent of Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) travelling via lethpora in district Pulwama from Jammu to Srinagar were attacked by a lone suicide bomber. Over 40 soldiers were killed in one the biggest attacks on the security forces in Jammu and Kashmir.
All this happened when the general elections were going on in India.
On February 26, India launched a dangerous mission to retaliate against the killing of CRPF soldiers. This operation was to be carried across the border by the Indian Air Force.
Later during a joint press briefing (post the strikes), the Indian Air Force officials stated that the Indian fighter jets crossed the Line of Control and hit ‘Jaish-e-Mohammed terror camps in Balakot, Pakistan. Islamabad was expectedly infuriated and promised to hit back.
The next day, Pakistan responded with its fighter jets (allegedly US-supplied F16 aircraft) by infiltrating into the Indian territory without causing any damage except denting the Indian image. India accidentally shot down its own chopper and lost a Mig-21 Bison jet. India claimed to have shot down a Pakistani F-16, a claim rejected by Islamabad.
Pakistan also detained Indian Pilot Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman. But two days later, he was released which was promoted as a goodwill gesture in Pakistan but experts termed it an upshot of immense Indian diplomatic pressure.
Since then, India and Pakistan have been involved in claims and counterclaims but there are many vital questions that have gone unanswered.
- Did India really achieve its objective in Balakot?
- Was Jaish-e-Mohammed’s training camp in Balakot really destroyed?
- Did the Indian bombs hit their targets and what was the scale of the damage
- Did Pakistan use American F-16 fighter jets that were not allowed (during the war with a country)?
- Why did Pakistan not grant access to the bombed location for over a month?
Did India Destroy Terror Infrastructure?
India claimed that it destroyed the building housing hundreds of terrorists through the surgical strike. India also claimed that it killed a number of militants and their commanders in the attack. The exact number, however, is not yet known.
The figures released by the Indian media, citing some government sources, asserted that between 200 to 300 terrorists were killed in the Indian surgical strikes.
An Indian news agency also claimed that three ‘terrorist camps’ were attacked in Muzaffarabad, Chakothi and Balakot. But later the Indian government made it clear that the airstrikes were carried out only in Balakot.
Addressing a joint press conference, the Indian Air Force official said – “There is credible information and evidence that shows that the IAF airstrikes were successful and the military action yielded the desired results.” However, he said when and how to release the evidence was the decision of the political leadership.
The Claim of Pakistan
The then Pakistan Army spokesman, Major General Asif Ghafoor denied the Indian claims at a press conference on February 27. Ghafoor stated that ‘our radars took notice of large-scale air movement in the Muzaffarabad sector and were alerted.
It took them (IAF) four minutes to get inside the border and get back. They did not attack and only dropped their bombs and fled away. He even claimed that ‘no airstrikes were carried out and the Pakistani air force forced the Indian fighter jets to retreat.’
Questions That Have Not Been Answered
Initially, Pakistani troops surrounded the bombed area in Balakot and prevented access to international journalists. Islamabad is yet to answer why access to foreign journalists was denied for over a month?
When a foreign journalist arrived in Balakot a month later, he found a ‘madrassa’ where the students were studying. The building was in good condition. But interestingly, some locals told reporters that the madrassa had been closed for about a year.
Now the question arises if the madrassa was closed for a year, was Islamabad refurbishing the old madrassa to showcase to the global media and hide the real damage?
Indian authorities, on the other hand, showed some journalists in Delhi images taken from the Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) showing four buildings were destroyed by the airstrike. However, the question still remains why Indian authorities did not formally release these images?
In the battle of claims and counterclaims, Pakistan tweeted the arrest of two Indian Air Force pilots, but Islamabad did not provide any evidence to substantiate their claim.
It was only Abhinandan who was arrested by the Pakistani army but the question still arises who was the other pilot? Was it the pilot of Pakistani F-16 which was shot down by the Indian Air Force?
Pakistan and India are still involved in claims and counterclaims a year after the Balakot strikes, but neither party has released any further details.