India

Balakot strike: Foreign secy refuses to give number of terrorists killed in Pakistan

On Friday in his deposition to the Parliamentary Committee on External Affairs, FS Vijay Gokhale again refused to put a number on terrorists killed by the Indian Air Force in Pakistan

Ashlin Mathew

“We are trying to investigate the number of deaths at the Jaish-e-Mohammad camp at Balakot, which was targeted by the Indian Air Force in an early morning strike on February 26. We still don’t have all the information,” Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale told the Parliamentary Committee on External Affairs, which met on March 1.

This is in sharp contrast to the statement given by the Foreign Secretary three days ago. Then, in a much-televised press conference, he had read out a statement that said “a very large number of JeM terrorists, trainers, senior commanders and groups of jihadis who were being trained for fidayeen action were eliminated” in the IAF strike at Jaba Top in Pakistan.

This had fuelled a frenzy on TV channels and a section of the media which reported that between 300 and 650 terrorists had been killed in the air strike by the Indian Air Force.

This became an international embarrassment when Pakistan denied any casualty and even international media channels like BBC, Reuters, New York Times, The Guardian and Al Jazeera reported that the attack had left only a solitary man injured.

Pakistan on Friday rubbed in the point by trolling India. It would lodge a complaint with the United Nations for ‘eco-terrorism’ by India which had successfully bombed 15 Pine trees, declared an official spokesman with his tongue-in-cheek.

On February 28, the Air Vice-Marshal RGK Kapoor had said, again at a press conference, that “it was up to the government and higher leadership as to when and how to give the evidence or not”.

Gokhale steadfastly refused to give any numbers at the Parliamentary Committee meeting. He repeatedly stated, “he cannot comment on it.” He said that it was intelligence-led operation in the early hours on February 26, 2019. And according to some members he told them that the number could be disclosed only by the Ministry of Defence.

When Gokhale was questioned about the stories in international media which suggested that hardly anyone had died in the IAF attack and that the target was missed, Gokhale said he doesn’t have anything to say about those articles.

Sources said Gokhale’s response was vague and bureaucratic. When he was asked about Donald Trump’s tweets and announcements, which had indicated about the possibility of such action, Gokhale said he didn’t know about it.

When he was questioned about the stories in international media which suggested that hardly anyone had died in the IAF attack and that the target was missed, Gokhale said he didn’t have anything to say about media reports.

A member of the committee mentioned to National Herald ,on the condition of anonymity, that Gokhale stuck to the line that the ministry of external affairs had maintained at the press conferences. When he was asked about Mamata Banerjee’s statement demanding that the government reveal the truth, Gokhale refused to take the bait.

Gokhale mentioned in the meeting that India had the support of many countries at the United Nations. Gokhale was only willing to speak about Sushma Swaraj’s invitation and speech at the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) in Abu Dhabi.

This is the first time India has been invited to an OIC meet as a guest of honour. Pakistan, a member of OIC, had attempted to get Swaraj “uninvited”, but the request was not entertained. As a result, the Pakistan foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi skipped the meeting of foreign ministers.

“It was a routinely boring committee meeting,” said sources. The meeting which was scheduled to begin at 2.30 pm, began only at 2.50 pm and the meeting wrapped up at 3.17 pm.

“It was a routinely boring committee meeting,” said sources. The meeting which was scheduled to begin at 2.30 pm, began only at 2.50 pm and the meeting wrapped up at 3.17 pm and it was chaired by Shashi Tharoor.

Of the 30 members in the external affairs Parliamentary Committee, only 12 turned up. Of those who turned up were BJP MPs Richard Hay, Swapan Dasgupta, Sambhajiraje Chhatrapati, P Jagadambika and Congress MP P Bhattacharyya.

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Published: 1 Mar 2019, 7:21 PM