Amit Shah’s Balakot Casualty Claim: Govt Must Speak in One Voice

While the govt is yet to issue a figure for the Balakot casualties, Amit Shah has gone ahead and declared a number.

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Amit Shah’s Balakot Casualty Claim: Govt Must Speak in One Voice

Did India hit the targeted terrorist camps in Balakot in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province in Pakistan, and if we did, how many terrorists did the Indian air strikes manage to kill? This is the top question on the minds of many Indians, but it seems that there is no official answer to it.

But the bigger question is, do we need an answer to the above question, as is being asked by our political Opposition and certain sections of our public?

Why a Cloud of Confusion Surrounding Balakot Air Strikes?

The question surrounding the Indian attack on terrorist camps, involves many complexities – did our air force venture into Pakistani territory? The answer is an emphatic “yes”, as it has been acknowledged by the Government of Pakistan. Did we drop bombs in Pakistan? Again the answer is a big yes.

Now the question that is being asked is whether we really hit any terrorist camps and kill hundreds of terrorists. To this question, Air Chief Marshal BS Dhanoa has categorically said that it has hit the intended targets and it is for the government to count the casualties – it’s not the job of the armed forces. Once the Chief of Air Force says that it has hit the target, there should be little room to deliberate on this issue any further.

So, why the confusion? To answer this, we need to understand that in a democracy, the onus to reveal the hard facts to the public, is on the government the public has elected. On the other hand, it is the right and duty of the Opposition to demand facts from the ruling government.

On both counts, the government has failed to provide the answers we want. Initially, India’s foreign secretary VK Gokhale, through his press conference, conveyed that the IAF air strikes were carried out on “the biggest training camp in Balakot”, which he said was being run by Maulana Yusuf Azhar, the brother-in-law of JeM chief, Maulana Masood Azhar.

Mixed Messages from BJP Govt

Gokhale said that the strikes were carried out based on an intelligence-led operation “in the early hours”. While he did mention that a very large number of JeM terrorists, trainers, senior commanders and groups of jihadis (who were being trained for fidayeen action) were eliminated, he refrained from quoting the number of casualties. Even Union Minister SS Ahluwalia said that neither Prime Minister Narendra Modi nor any government spokesperson had given any figure on casualty of the IAF air strikes. Rather, it was the media and social media where the unconfirmed figures of terrorists being killed were being circulated, he said.

That being said, BJP President Amit Shah, as part of his political campaign, said that the number of terrorists killed in the operation exceeded 250. What’s more, former Army chief and Minister of State for External Affairs VK Singh Tuesday said the death toll is not a “confirmed figure” and that, what the BJP president meant was that these many “might have died” in the air strikes.

“That (casualty figure) was based on people who were housed in the buildings which were hit, it’s an estimate. He is not saying this is a confirmed figure, he is saying this many might have died,” Singh told the media.

Facts Obfuscated, Conflicted Minds

This is bound to create conflict in the minds of the public, because of contrarian narratives from one source: the ruling government. How can the ruling party’s president quote this figure with so much authority, when neither the government nor the armed forces has released an official statement. Amit Shah’s statement is bound to raise eyebrows.

Some sections of the media also put out some figures, which are yet to be ascertained. Either way, no point in gaining political mileage out of this. Perhaps, the question of the number of terrorists killed is not as important as the fact that the ruling government ought to speak in one voice, both within, and outside – to the electorate.

(Prateek Lohiya is a senior corporate manager based in Delhi and regularly writes commentary on current affairs. This is a personal blog and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

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