Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj has finally admitted that no Pakistani soldier or citizen was killed in the Indian airstrike in Balakot, contrary to previous Indian claims of up to 300 casualties.
“We had told the international community that the armed forces were instructed not to harm any Pakistani citizen or its soldier during the strike,” Indian media quoted Swaraj as saying on Thursday. “Our Army did the same without harming any Pakistani citizen or soldier.”
But the foreign minister’s latest comments are in stark contrast to previous tall claims by Indian officials of destroying an alleged terrorist camp and killing up to 300 alleged terrorists in the February 26 airstrike on the Pakistani town, about 40 km (25 miles) from the Line of Control (LoC).
Pakistan had rejected India’s claims, saying the Pakistani Air Force’s (PAF) timely response had forced Indian warplanes to return and only drop their “payload” on a largely empty hillside.
Pakistani officials and locals had rejected the claims, inviting local and international media to visit the site of the so-called attack where around a dozen trees were the only “casualty”.
In a tweet shortly afterwards on Thursday, DG ISPR Major-General Asif Ghafoor said Swaraj’s comments vindicate Pakistan’s stance and revealed the truth behind India’s false claims.
In retaliatory action on February 27, the Pakistan Air Force downed two Indian aircraft, capturing Indian Wing Commander Abhinandan who was then released as a peace gesture by Pakistan.
Indian Air Force officials had claimed the IAF wing commander had managed to shoot down a Pakistani F-16 before his own plane was downed by PAF in an aerial dogfight.
But even those claims were revealed to be lies by US defense officials. Two senior US defense officials with direct knowledge of the situation told Foreign Policy magazine that US personnel counted Pakistan’s F-16s and found none missing.
The findings directly contradicted the account of Indian Air Force officials.
Further doubt was cast on India’s claims of damaging an alleged “terrorist camp” when news agency Reuters independently reviewed high-resolution satellite images.
Jeffrey Lewis, director of the East Asia Nonproliferation Project at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies, confirmed that the high-resolution satellite pictures “don’t show any evidence of bomb damage”.
The images produced by Planet Labs Inc, a San Francisco-based private satellite operator, showed at least six buildings on the site on March 4, six days after the airstrike, with no discernible holes in the roofs of buildings, no signs of scorching, blown-out walls, displaced trees around the structures or other signs of an aerial attack.