A group of foreign journalists and diplomats were escorted to the site of an Indian airstrike to show that, contrary to New Delhi’s claims, no infrastructure was damaged, Pakistan’s military spokesman said.
The visiting group, which Major General Asif Ghafoor said was mostly based in Delhi, was shown observing a crater in Balakot in video published via Twitter late Wednesday, on the eve of India’s massive election. The group saw the “ground realities” of the strike site, Ghafoor said in a caption accompanying the tweet.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has campaigned hard on what he claims is the success of the Feb. 26 strike. Indian officials have claimed up to 250 militants were killed. Pakistan has denied from the start that there was any damage or casualties, with Modi’s counterpart Imran Khan framing it as an election ploy.
With the first phase of polls in India’s massive election opening on Thursday, Modi has styled himself as India’s “chowkidar” (watchman), and anyone even questioning the action against Pakistan is given short shrift.
But independent reporting by multiple local and international outlets who have visited the site found no evidence of a major terrorist training camp—or of any infrastructure damage at all.
An AFP reporter who visited just hours after the strike was carried out saw damage only to trees and one mud hut. Local residents have said no one was killed. The Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab said that open-source satellite imagery indicated “only impacts in the wooded area, with no damage being visible to the surrounding structures.”
The strike was in retaliation to a suicide bombing in India-Occupied Kashmir on Feb. 14 that was claimed by a Pakistan-based militant group but perpetrated by a local separatist. It was followed by Pakistani airstrikes, which hit open space in Indian territory and ignited a dogfight in the skies over the disputed region of Kashmir, the worst confrontation between the nuclear-armed foes in years.
Pakistan said it shot down two Indian warplanes, with one falling on the Indian side of the de facto Kashmir border. It captured the pilot of the other, releasing him days later in a bid to defuse tensions.
India says just one of its planes was shot down, and claimed that the second plane was a Pakistani F-16 shot down by the Indian air force. Pakistan has denied that claim also, and Foreign Policy has reported that the U.S. had done a count of all Pakistan’s F-16s, with none missing.
Kashmir has been divided between India and Pakistan since the end of British colonial rule in 1947. Both claim the Himalayan territory in full and have fought two wars over it.