The complete story behind Balakot airstrikes

The 2019 Balakot airstrike was conducted by India in the early morning hours of February 26 when Indian warplanes crossed the de facto border in the disputed region of Kashmir, and dropped bombs in the vicinity of the town of Balakot in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province in Pakistan.

Pakistan’s military, the first to announce the airstrike on February 26 morning, described the Indian planes as dropping their payload in an uninhabited wooded hilltop area near Balakot. India, confirming the airstrike later the same day, characterized it to be a pre-emptive strikes directed against a terrorist training camp, and causing the deaths of a “large number” of terrorists.

The following day, February 27, in a tit-for-tat airstrike, Pakistan retaliated, causing an Indian warplane to be shot down and its pilot to be taken prisoner by the Pakistan military before being returned on March 1.

India insists it killed a large number of Jaish-e-Mohamed group militants and destroyed their camp in retaliation for a suicide attack two weeks earlier in Indian-administered Kashmir, which killed 40 paramilitary police troopers.

That attack was the deadliest against Indian forces in Kashmir in decades and raised fears of a new war between India and Pakistan, which are both nuclear powers.The large hilltop building is said to have capacity for 2,500 children.

Pakistani army spokesman Maj-Gen Asif Ghafoor insisted the madrassa did “no harm” and that Indian allegations that it was a terror training camp had “no truth”.Some 150-200 children could be seen reciting the Koran in a mosque at the school.

However, a teacher and a student interviewed by the BBC said they were all local people and that the madrassa had been shut since the Indian attack. While the media were allowed to take interviews they were told to keep them short and it was clear that the tour was being restricted.

What does India say?

Contacted by the BBC, India’s external affairs ministry said it stood by its statement last month that the “counter-terrorism strike of 26 February” had “achieved the intended objective”.

“The fact that media was taken on a conducted tour to the site only after a month and a half after the incident speaks for itself,” a ministry official added on the incident.

The Balakot air strike has played a major role in the election campaign of Indian Prime MinisterNarendraModi who has called on first-time voters to dedicate their ballots to the pilots involved, India Today reports.

Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan told the media that peace with India over Kashmir would be “tremendous” for the wider region.

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