On Feb. 26, according to the Indian news agency ANI, “Indian Air Force Mirage 2000 fighters destroyed multiple terrorist camps across the Line of Control.” The claim came after Pakistan Army spokesman Maj. Gen. Asif Ghafoor had earlier claimed that “Indian aircraft intruded from Muzaffarabad sector” and dropped a payload near Balakot after “facing timely and effective response from Pakistan Air Force.”
ANI further reported, quoting sources in the Indian Air Force, that “at 0330 hours on Feb. 26, a squadron of Mirage 2000 Indian Fighter jets struck a major terrorist camp across the LoC and completely destroyed it.” The IAF source further told ANI that 1000kg bombs were dropped on “terror camps” across the LoC, adding that 12 Mirage 2000 jets took part in the operation.
Union Minister Gajendra Singh Shekhawat was the first to tweet on the attacks from the Indian government’s side, saying it was the first time since the 1971 war that IAF had used Pakistan-controlled air space. This was followed by Opposition leaders, Congress president Rahul Gandhi, and AAP convener, Arvind Kejriwal, tweet-saluting the armed forces.
On the Pakistani side Major-General Asif Ghafoor, Director-General Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) said to the media: “Indian aircrafts’ intrusion across LoC in Muzaffarabad Sector within Azad Jammu & Kashmir was up to 3-4 miles. Under forced “hasty withdrawal,” the aircraft released payload, which had free fall in an open area. No infrastructure got hit, no casualties. Technical details and other important information to follow.”
On the Indian side, the Information & Broadcasting department sent notices to ABP News and Tiranga TV—dated Feb. 23—saying the channels appeared to have “violated” two provisions of the Program Code. According to the Code, Rule 6 (1) (e) “no program should be carried in the cable service which is likely to encourage or incite violence or contains anything against maintenance of law and order or which promote anti-national attitudes”; and Rule 6 (1) (h) states “no program should be carried in the cable service which contains anything affecting the integrity of the Nation.”
Pictures released by the DG-ISPR appeared in the Pakistani press showing a burnt-out steep mountainside with “no sign of any damage to any property, apart from a few pine trees.” One report specified the area further: “Although the violation took place in Poonch Sector’s Balakot, along the LoC, the area is being confused with Balakot, which is located in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa.”
Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi said, “Pakistan reserves the right to an appropriate respond to Indian intrusion as it is a violation of LoC.” He added, “War clouds are looming over Pakistan and we should be prepared. We are capable of defending every inch of the motherland”.
There are clearly two versions of what happened to India’s punitive strike, which is supposed to have destroyed “one camp” or “many camps” belonging to alleged terrorist groups that attack across the LoC from Pakistan. The Indian side didn’t say the Indian jets were chased by Pakistani jets, but the Pakistani version clearly indicated that, when attacked, the intruders lost nerve, dumped their bombs, and beat a hasty retreat.
The truth, as it always does in matters of a sensitive nature, probably lies somewhere between these two narratives. For the sake of peace between Pakistan and India—and before the situation spirals further—it would be best if we figured out just what that “between” state is.