On Tuesday, 26 February 2019, Indian Air Force (IAF) carried out an air strike in Balakot, Pakistan, destroying what was claimed to be a training camp of the militant outfit Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM). This was seen as a response to the Pulwama suicide attack on a CRPF convoy by JeM which killed at least 40 personnel earlier this month.
Government officially claimed that location of the attack was chosen in order to avoid civilian casualties. He further said that the destroyed camp was run by JeM chief Moulana Masood Azhar’s brother-in-law Moulana Yousuf Azhar.
Where is Balakot?
Balakot is a town of Maneshra district in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province of Pakistan. It is about 40 kilometres from the capital of PAK, Muzaffarabad. Balakot came into limelight after the 2005 Kashmir earthquake. Due to the earthquake, most of the infrastructure in the town was destroyed. It was rebuilt by the Pakistan government with assistance from Saudi Arabia. As per the city population census official website, the population of Balakot was 2.73 lakh in 2017.
Reaction in Kashmir
A few locals of Nowshad Karalapora, an area of central Kashmir’s Budgam, revealed deep worry about the consequences of the aerial strike.
Octogenarian Mohammad Ramzan Sofi was an eyewitness of the 1965 Indo-Pak war, and his village was highly affected by the war.
Ramzan recalls the gory memories of the war. Nowshad is a small village located in the lap of the old airport. This village always remains under the shadow of the two top radar towers, which are part of the radar station of air force (known as Signal Unit 727 of the Air force).
“All the houses and cowsheds in the village were turned into ammunition store,” said Ramzan.
Within no time, all the houses were destroyed in the bombing, and villagers were watching the destruction from a distance and were crying and begging for the mercy, he said.
After the bombing stopped, people rushed to their houses which were covered under thick black smoke. “All the houses were razed to the ground, not even a single cowshed was spared,” recalls Ramzan.
While talking about the recent aerial strike, Ramzan told Newsclick that the war between India and Pakistan will lead to a high number of civilian casualties, property worth crores will be turned to ashes, which will be the biggest loss for both the countries.
He further said that the world is aware of the tension between these two countries and the situation in Kashmir. “Both countries claim they “love” people of J&K. If that were to be true, then solutions have to be sought through peaceful talks. Aerial strikes or any attack won't lead to any solution,” he said.
Seeking opinion on the recent aerial attack, Newsclick approached a few retired officers of police.
On the condition of anonymity, a few officers told Newsclick that those who think that problems between two countries could be solved with war are suffering from a serious misunderstanding. “War will be a failure. It is the people of J&K who will be the victims and will suffer,” he said. Who will enjoy the victory? The main interest of both countries lies in Kashmir, and not in Kashmiris, he claimed.
“I have served for 30 years in police, I have seen Kashmir in worse conditions. The ground reality is that civilians are suffering,” said an officer who has been part of many anti-militant operations during the 90s.
He further said that it’s not only the war which makes the situation worse in the Valley; even a single act by the militants leads to action in which civilians are always the most affected.
Reaction on Social Media
Meanwhile, soon after the attack, social networking sites were flooded with the posts related to the aerial strike. The former chief minister of J&K and vice president of National Conference, Omar Abdullah, while taking to his twitter handle, questioned the commitment made by the Prime Minister (PM) of Pakistan, Imran Khan, to his people that ‘Pakistan will not think of retaliating it will retaliate’.
Omar tweeted, “[T]he problem now becomes PM Imran Khan’s commitment to his country – “Pakistan will not think about responding, Pakistan WILL respond”. What shape will response take? Where will the response be? Will India have to respond to Pakistan’s response?”
Reflecting on the confusion regarding the exact identity of the target, Omar tweeted: “If this is Balakot is in KPK it’s a major incursion & a significant strike by IAF planes. However, if it’s Balakot in Poonch sector, along the LoC it’s a largely symbolic strike because at this time of the year forward launch pads & militant camps are empty & non-functional.”
“After Abbottabad, the line they took was “we are primed to look East to prevent any Indian attacks and that’s how the Americans got through”. So where were they looking now?” Omar said.