India refuses to share proof of air strikes in Balakot

Published March 3, 2019
Some Indian opposition leaders have asked the government to share evidence of the strikes.— ISPR/File
Some Indian opposition leaders have asked the government to share evidence of the strikes.— ISPR/File

NEW DELHI: A top Indian minister said on Saturday the government would not share proof that “a very large number of militants” were killed in air strikes inside Pakistan this week, after doubts were raised there were any casualties in the attack that stoked tensions between the two countries.

The flare up appeared to be easing on Saturday after Pakistan handed back a captured Indian fighter pilot on Friday night, amid efforts by global powers to prevent another war between the two states.

NEW DELHI: Indian Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman (centre) talking to Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman of the Indian Air Force at a hospital on Saturday.—AP
NEW DELHI: Indian Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman (centre) talking to Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman of the Indian Air Force at a hospital on Saturday.—AP

However, shelling across the Line of Control continued, said military officials on both sides.

On Tuesday, Indian warplanes carried out air strikes inside Balakot on what New Delhi alleged were militant camps. Islamabad denied any such camps existed, as did local villagers in the area when Reuters visited.

On Wednesday, Pakistan retaliated with its own aerial mission.

Pakistan said the Indian bombs hit a largely empty hillside without hurting anyone. Some Indian opposition leaders have asked the government to share evidence of the strikes.

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But India’s Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, one of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s top lieutenants, said “no security agencies ever share operational details”.

“It’s a very irresponsible stand,” Jaitley said at a conference organised by the India Today media group.

“The armed forces must have, and our security and intelligence agencies must have, a full leeway in dealing with situations, and if anybody wants operational details to be made public ... he certainly does not understand the system.”

Jaitley dismissed suggestions that the rapid escalation in tensions with Pak­is­tan had anything to do with India’s domestic politics ahead of a general election due by May. Pollsters expect the ruling party to benefit from the nationalistic passion sweeping the country.

Indian Air Force Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman crossed into India from Pakistan at Wagah on Friday night in a high-profile handover shown on live television.

Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman met Abhinan­dan at a New Delhi defence hospital on Saturday, where he was seen in his air force jumpsuit. He will undergo medical checks before re-joining active duty, officials said. The pilot debriefed the minister about his detention in Pakistan.

Pakistan presented Abhi­nandan’s return “as a goodwill gesture aimed at de-escalating rising tensions with India” after weeks of unease that threatened to spiral into war. Global powers, including China and the United States, have urged restraint to prevent another conflict bet­ween the neighbours.

Published in Dawn, March 3rd, 2019

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