In February 2019, less than two weeks after a terrorist attack on Indian troops in Jammu and Kashmir took the lives of 40 Indian men in uniform, New Delhi launched air raids at secretive Jaish-e-Mohammed terrorist training camps in Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province’s Balakot. 

The airstrikes targeted Markaz Sayyid Ahmed Shaheed complex at Jabba hilltop, named after a preacher who sought to create an Islamic state among Pashtun tribes in 1830s, and unsuccessfully led hundreds of his followers against Sikh ruler Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s forces. This became the first-ever notable point of jihad in South Asia. “The lush hills around Balakot are dotted with secretive training camps where modern-day Pakistani jihadis train for battle against Indian forces in Kashmir,” journalist Declan Walsh noted in his book ‘The Nine Lives of Pakistan’ in 2020. 


The pre-emptive air strikes resulted in the casualties of a “large number” of terrorists at the training site. However, while Islamabad admitted that Indian fighter jets entered its airspace in Balakot, it denied any casualties by claiming that Indian payloads were dropped on empty land. Pakistan launched an information warfare, posting pictures of damaged trees instead of damaged training sites, claiming there were no casualties. The Pakistani side of the story, involving a bunch of state-aligned journalists purportedly showing that “nothing happened in Balakot”, was proven false shortly after. 

Balakot airstrikes: How Pakistan’s no casualties claim was proven false?

India’s then Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale told a news conference that the strikes had killed a “large number” of militants, including commanders, and had avoided civilian casualties.

“Credible intel [intelligence] was received that JeM was planning more suicide attacks in India. In the face of imminent danger, a pre-emptive strike became absolutely necessary,” he said.

ALSO WATCH | Gravitas: ‘Surprise day’, Pak propaganda on Balakot strikes

Shortly after the Balakot airstrikes, residents in the area told international media that “they were woken up by loud explosions”. An India Today cover story, citing intelligence officials, said that five bombs hit the targets, three hitting the Markaz Sayyid Ahmad Shaheed complex situated at the Jabba hilltop in Balakot that housed 150 terror recruits. The news outlet was shown one of the high-resolution satellite pictures by the Indian Air Force officials that showed three holes punctured into the roof of one of the buildings, signifying the strikes by SPICE bombs. The phone conversations in the area monitored by the Indian intelligence agencies revealed that the local police station recorded three ambulances with 35 bodies coming from the camp. Another 37 ambulances were rushed to the spot, with some of the injured reportedly taken to an Abbottabad hospital for treatment.

Months later in August 2021, then Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan admitted that the Balakot strike took place.

“Just like how after Pulwama, they took the action in Balakot, according to the information we have, they have made more sinister plans now,” Khan said while addressing a Legislative Assembly on the occasion of 73rd Independence Day of Pakistan, referring to what Khan feared was an impending action by the Indian forces in Pakistan shortly after New Delhi’s constitutional changes revoked limited autonomy in Jammu and Kashmir.

After Balakot: India’s bid to eliminate terror in the region

India went after the nucleus of terrorism in South Asia. Its diplomatic overdrive focused more on its fight against terrorism than on just hyphenating itself with Pakistan, the country which sponsored the Pulwama terrorist attack. 

In May 2019, Pakistan-based terrorist Masood Azhar was designated a global terrorist by the United Nations Security Council, a major diplomatic win for India. 


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