The Mystery of Death Toll in Balakot

There is little doubt that India’s Miraj pilots bombed the area that was indicated to them in the briefing. They flew in the dark by Instrument Flying Rules. The target was hidden amid trees. There was no one there to light a flare and show the exact spot. Latitude and Longitude data they were supplied with at the briefing along with the aerial map had only so many digits, but the last decimal in the number given is always an approximation. We do not know of the GPS or other technologies that they used for precision bombing. Media statements to the effect that the ‘trajectory of the bombs was guided by laser beams’ are mere guesswork by a fertile journalistic mind. If they hit the target right on the spot, eliminating much of future threat to our soldiers and civilians, that is commendable. If they missed the target by a few hundred feet, that is understandable.

There is no doubt that a Jihadi training centre of Jaish e Mohammad did exist in the area marked as target. Like in Abbottabad, the ordinary people did not know the details, only guesses as to what was going on in what they called a Madrasa. International media say that a terror training hideout existedin this location, but after being exposed, it was dispersed to several locations. Some of the locals told Al Jazeera that it was only a school, but the wiser ones knew it was jihadi training centre, and feared the risk involved in its proximity. Security personnel knew, but wouldn’t tell. It is almost certain that a group of 300-350 trainers, trainees and trained terrorists occupied the place in the unobtrusive (“mysterious”) structure. It is also true that if twelve Mirajes pounded the structure, everyone inside would have been blown to high heavens and reached the promised heaven.

Pakistan does not mention the existence of the terrorist school. It was the first to report, mockingly, that some Indian Air Force aircraft intruded into the Pakistan territory and returned when challenged by their fighters, dropping some of their wares on the ground. Later it published photos of the craters made by bombs, not giving too many details. So far Indian Air Force has produced no photographs of the destruction it caused. If 12 aircraft took part, one would certainly have taken photographs. Even in World War II, that was the practice. A pilot’s claim is not accepted in the Operations room till there is proof. Perhaps photographs exist, but the Air Force has not released them.

Indian politicians, particularly Narendra Modi and his henchmen have gone to town making claims that ‘credible evidence’ exists that 300-350 terrorists were killed in the raid. Among those killed, they said, was Yusuf Azhar, Masood’s brother-in-law and presumably the head of terrorist training for JeM. Disconcertingly, Air Force made no such announcement; India being a civilian-administered Nation, they leave that option to the government.. Even when a spokesman – Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale of the government made the announcement that Acting on intelligence, India early today stuck the biggest training camp of Jaish-e-Mohammad in Balakot. In this operation a very large number of Jaish-e-Mohammad terrorists, trainers, senior commanders and jihadis being trained … were eliminated.

Air Marshall Kapoor sitting next to him made no comment. Amit Shah, President of the governing BJP, put a definite number to the figure of the terrorists killed: 250.

Al Jazeera, the television channel and their website originate from Qatar, presently a pariah nation to most other Arab countries. Though a Muslim source of information, it publishes news that are not exactly laudatory about activities of other Muslim nations. So much so that one of the demands made by other Arab nations on Qatar for taking it back into GCC and Organization of oil producing nations is that it bans Al Jazeera. I breakfast on NDTV, BBC, Al Jazeera, Asianet News (Malayalam), CNN and CGTN (China), tribune.pk in that order. I find Aljazeera.com highly opinionated, but rarely biased towards Islamic nations. It is another matter that the channel and the website never shy away from describing the social ills of India – mostly articles or reports filed by Indian (none of them Muslim) writers.

Aljazeera phtos of alleged Balakot damage

That being that, a correspondent of Al Jazeera, Asad Hashim from Islamabad, claims to have visited the site in Balakot. The website published photos taken from different angles than those put out by Pakistan. If you look at the cluster of photos (above), you would find a barrack-like building at the top left corner, not in the best of its structural integrity. No villager has complained that his or her house has been damaged or destroyed. So make a good intelligent guess.

In the photos there is broken debris all around, but no building parts. The reporter also claims to have interviewed a man who was hit on his forehead by a sharpnel or a ricocheting stone. Other villagers he interviewed said that they knew that a Madrasa does exist, but have no idea about it being hit. The reporter himself evidently did not visit the so-called ‘Mysterious School. Was he stopped by Pakistan security? Whether Aljazeera is biased or otherwise, the person who filed the report, Asad Hashim is a Pakistani, is not averse to writing about atrocities against Christians, but like all Pakistanis, good bad or indifferent, takes India for his nation’s enemy. His Twitter site shows a sign-board showing the direction of the ‘mysterious school’, but not the building itself. If he had trekked a little farther ahead, he could have taken another photograph showing that the ‘mysterious school’ was in good shape. He didn’t, which takes away credence from his implied statement that the school was not bombed.

Neither Masood Azhar, who is safe in one hospital or another, or any jihadi leader from JeM has made an announcement denying any loss. On the other hand, none has threatened to take revenge for the heavy loss. This adds to the mystery. Yusuf Azhar, if he has not been killed by the bombs, has not come forward to claim that he is alive and kicking and give Indian claims the lie. Terrorists usually debunk any claim of their death my making an appearance on video or television.

Truths do not stay hidden for long. Citizens of India have the right to know the truth. Sooner than later, they will. I hope that when the Air Force does make a statement, they do not do it merely to substantiate the government claims, but to be honest to the Nation.

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