Balakot turning into a Gordian knot

Confusing and contradictory statements from all quarters are making us look absurd abroad. But do our loquacious politicians care?

Are we tying ourselves in knots over how many people were killed in the Balakot strike? It certainly seems like that and, to coin a phrase, its turning into quite a Gordian affair.

Speaking in Ahmedabad, BJP Chief Amit Shah claimed that “more than 250” terrorists were killed. Earlier government sources were quoted by almost every newspaper and television channel stating 300 terrorists had been eliminated. Thereafter, Rajnath Singh seemed to agree with the 300 figure whilst Yogi Adityanath and Radha Mohan Singh upped it to 400. But absolutely no one gave any sense of how they had come to their respective figures.

In contrast, officials, who should presumably know, have spoken very differently. The Air Force Chief, Air Chief Marshal B. S. Dhanoa, has categorically said: “We can’t count how many people have died. That depends on how many people were there.” The Foreign Secretary simply spoke generally, non-specifically and without detail. He said: “A very large number of JeM terrorists, trainers, senior commanders and group of jihadis … were eliminated.” Both refused to say how many and one can presume that’s because they don’t know.

At a joint press conference, speaking on behalf of the military, Air Vice Marshal R. G. K. Kapoor was deliberately vague to the point of being almost cryptic. “There’s fairly credible evidence with us which proves that there was damage to the camps. Weapons hit the intended target and they caused the damage that was intended … whatever we intended to destroy we have got the effect we desired. We have evidence to show that whatever we wanted to do and targets we wanted to destroy we have done that.” However, he did pointedly add that “it would be premature to say what is the number of casualties … and what is the number of deaths.”

So where did Amit Shah, Rajnath Singh, Radha Mohan Singh or the earlier unnamed government sources get their precise figures from? In fact, S. S. Ahluwalia, Minister of State for Electronics and IT, has actually stated it wasn’t India’s intention to cause casualties. The aim was to send Pakistan a message we can hit its backyard. “We did not want any human casualty”, he added. So, presumably, his position is no one was killed.

Now what does all of this suggest? That we don’t know? Or are simply guessing? Or, worse, we’re confused and contradicting ourselves? Your guess is as good as mine. However, the problem is this controversy is disquieting the nation and making us look absurd abroad. But do our loquacious politicians care?

Let me now briefly touch on another matter. This time, I admit, it’s more of academic concern than actual importance but it is still worth noting. Did India cross the LoC to carry out the Balakot strike? Or were the Spice 2000 bombs fired from inside Indian territory? Now that we know India possesses the Spice 2000, which is capable of accurately hitting targets 100 kms away, there was, in fact, no need to cross the LoC to hit Balakot, which is only 60 kms inside Pakistan. So if there was no need why would the Indian air force have crossed into Pakistani airspace?

Government spokesmen, once again unnamed, have at least on one occasion confirmed our planes did not cross the LoC. Balakot was targeted from our side of the border. Christine Fair, a highly respected authority on India and Pakistan, emphatically agrees. However, Pakistan’s military spokesman, Maj. Gen. Asif Ghafoor, tweeted on the 26ththat “Indian Air Force violated Line of Control. Pakistani Air Force immediately scrambled. Indian aircrafts gone back”. So, as far as Pakistan is concerned, we did cross. And that’s also the impression the government happily permitted to prevail when Balakot happened. But what’s the truth?

Alas the government is silent. It hasn’t said a word. So how are we to construe this? Logic would suggest if there was no need to cross the LoC we did not. However, the initial impression, which the government did not dispute, is we definitely did and most people still believe that. So where does that leave us? Sadly, once again, your guess is as good as mine.