India Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale confirmed at a press conference on Tuesday that the Indian Air Force had carried out a strike inside Pakistan, targeting a Jaish-e-Mohammed training camp. “A very large number of Jaish-e-Mohammed terrorists, trainers, commanders and groups of jihadis who were being trained for fidayeen [suicide] action” have been killed, he said.

He said that India had carried out a “non-military pre-emptive” action against the Jaish-e-Mohammed’s biggest terror camp, in Balakot early on Tuesday. He added that credible intelligence had been received that the Jaish-e-Mohammed was attempting other terror attacks in various parts of India and that “fidayeen jihadis” were being trained for this purpose. “In the face of imminent danger, a preemptive strike became absolutely necessary,” Gokhale said.

The air strike is a response to the Jaish-e-Mohammad attack on paramilitary forces in Pulwama, Kashmir on February 14, which claimed the lives of over 40 troops. Jaish chief Maulana Masood Azhar has his headquarters in Pakistan’s Bahawalpur, Gokhale said. The Jaish was designated a terrorist organisation by the United Nations in 2001.

This Balakot facility was headed by Maulana Yousuf Azhar (alias Ustad Ghouri), the brother-in-law of Masood Azhar.

According to ANI, 12 Mirage 2000 jets took part in the operation at around 3.30 am. The jets crossed the Line of Control and completely destroyed the target.

Pakistan’s Take

At 5.12 am, Major General Asif Ghafoor of the Pakistan Army claimed on Twitter that the Indian Air Force had violated the Line of Control. He said that Pakistani jets were scrambled and the Indian jets went back into Indian territory. At 7.06 am, the officer claimed that the Indian jets had intruded the Muzafarabad sector and released the payloads in haste after Pakistani response. The payloads fell near Balakot, he claimed, adding that there were no causalities or damage. He also released photographs that claimed to show the effects of the strike.

Civilian Casualties

Gokhale said that when India selected the target, it aimed to ensure that civilian casualties would be avoided. The facility that was attacked is located in thick forest, on a hilltop, far away from any civilian presence, he said.

The Government has not provided the citizens of the accurate number of terrorists that the air strike could kill, but only said in a statement that ‘A very large number of terrorists‘ were killed in this attack. Although, many media houses came up with their estimation through their ‘sources‘.

What we don’t know:

Balakot Province and The Sites of Concern

As the Indian media began reporting on the strike, questions emerged on the exact location of the air strike, with many taking to Twitter to point out that there was a Balakote very close to the Line of Control in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir. The difference was crucial as the other Balakot was well inside Pakistani territory, making it a strike in Pakistan rather than in the disputed territory. Gokhale did not clarify on this, during the press conference.

Major General Asif Gaffoor of the Pakistan Army took to Twitter again at around 10 am, claiming that the Indian incursion was in Muzafarabad sector within Pakistan Occupied Kashmir.

The BBC Urdu service reported that villagers in Balakot in Pakistan’s Manshera district claimed that they heard loud blasts between 3 am and 4 am on Tuesday. This is a district in the Hazara division of Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province and contradicted the claims of the Pakistani Army official on the location of the strike.

Morning of 27th February:

Pakistan Foreign Office, in a statement said, “Today, Pakistan Air Force undertook strikes across Line of Control from within Pakistani airspace. This was not a retaliation to continued Indian belligerence.” 

Pakistan has therefore, taken strikes at non military target, avoiding human loss and collateral damage. Sole purpose being to demonstrate our right, will and capability for self defence. We have no intention of escalation, but are fully prepared to do so if forced into that paradigm.

The Indian government officials acknowledged the statement and said, “Pakistani fighter jets on Wednesday violated Indian air space in Jammu and Kashmir’s Poonch and Nowshera sectors but were pushed back by Indian aircraft.

The Capturing of Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman and The Geneva Convention:

Abhinandan Varthaman, features on video released by the Pakistan Ministry of External affairs, stating about his well being

Retracting from its earlier statement that two Indian Air Force (IAF) pilots were under its custody, Pakistan Army on Wednesday evening said it has arrested “only one” Indian pilot.

There is only one pilot under Pakistan Army’s custody. Wing Comd Abhinandan is being treated as per norms of military ethics,” Pakistani military spokesperson Major General Asif Ghafoor tweeted.

Later, a video of Abhinandan was released in which he is seen praising the Pakistan Army for treating him well.

The wing commander, whose MiG 21 Bison aircraft was shot down by the Pakistan Air Force while engaged in hot pursuit to repel the enemy attack earlier in the day, ejected safely but landed across the Line of Control and was taken into custody by the Pakistan Army.

Meanwhile, India summoned the acting high commissioner of Pakistan and demanded the immediate and safe return of Abhinandan. It has also been made clear to Pakistan that no harm should be caused to the Indian defence personnel, the External Affairs Ministry said, adding that it has conveyed strong objection to the neighboring country, over the “vulgar display” of injured personnel, in violation of all norms of International Humanitarian Law and the Geneva Convention.

The rules protecting prisoners of war (POWs) are specific. They were first detailed in the 1929 Geneva Convention and later amended in the third 1949 Geneva Convention following the lessons of World War II.

It says POWs cannot be prosecuted for taking a direct part in hostilities. “Their detention is not a form of punishment, but only aims to prevent further participation in the conflict. They must be released and repatriated without delay after the end of hostilities. The detaining power may prosecute them for possible war crimes, but not for acts of violence that are lawful under International Humanitarian Law,” it says.

The rules specify that POWs must be treated humanely in all circumstances. “They are protected against any act of violence, as well as against intimidation, insults, and public curiosity,” the Geneva Convention states.

Three videos were released wherein Wing Commander Abhinandan has been featured. The first video depicted the civilians beating up the Indian Commander and the Pakistani soldiers attempting to refrain the mob, in the second clipping Wing Commander Abhinandan has been blind folded and asked various questions to which he bravely refuses to give away any more information than his name, religion and country and the third video that resurfaced was that of Abhinandan sipping tea and praising the Pakistan army in their attempts to serve him.

The release of the Indian Pilot has already been announced by the Pakistan Prime Minister and would be back on Indian soil no later than the 2nd of March.

An IAF crash: A coincidence or Pakistan’s retaliatory charge?

The IAF Jet That Crashed in Budgam

Six personnel on board an Indian military chopper and a civilian died on Wednesday when the aircraft, MI-17 chopper crashed in Budgam district of Jammu and Kashmir.

The aircraft crashed in an open field near Garend Kalaan village in Budgam at 10:05 am, officials said. It broke into two and caught fire immediately, senior officials said. 

It is completely possible that the crash has nothing to do with the ongoing tension with Pakistan and that it was a mechanical failure but a court of inquiry has been ordered in this incident to investigate further into it.

An Unlikely Outcome: War

Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan Thursday announced the repatriation of IAF pilot Wing Commander Abhinandan after he was captured by Pakistani army from Horra’n village (barely 7 Kms from the LoC) in Bhimber district of PoK

Imran Khan said the release of Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman was a ‘peace gesture’ and urged India to start dialogue. Imran Khan’s gesture of goodwill will lower the tension and lead to a gradual stepping back from the edge.

On Wednesday morning, in what seemed to be music to India’s years, China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi came down hard on sponsors of terrorism at the Russia-India-China foreign ministers’ meet in Wuzhen, Zhejiang.

External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj considered Wang’s comments significant enough to highlight them to the media, saying they showed “we would cooperate on eradicating the breeding grounds of terrorism”.

Although, Pakistan is the country China likes to call its “irreplaceable all-weather” friend. The China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), a flagship of
President Xi Jinping’s Belt and Road Initiative, has made China more invested than ever before in Pakistan’s future. For Beijing, this presents a dilemma. Its abiding desire is stability and due to its large economic investments, a withdrawal of support from Pakistan is unlikely.

US President Donald Trump had hinted that some good news was imminent, but most analysts read it as excessive optimism. But now it means that the US was in the loop and most probably instrumental in starting the process of de-escalation between the nuclear weapon-possessing neighbors. Undoubtedly, the Saudi-Emirati alliance is also guiding Pakistan towards reducing tension with India.

A two-step approach is anyway underway: build public pressure via a joint US-UK-France resolution in the UN Security Council to list Masood Azhar as an international terrorist, and an outreach to Pakistan to dismantle JeM terror machine. Normally, China would veto the first, despite external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj’s attendance at the Russia-India-China (RIC) ministerial meet. But the US choreography may include putting pressure on China to not play the spoiler. 

The Government’s Negligence and Sheer Ignorance:

Modi, launching the Khelo India Application at an inaugural event in New Delhi

At 4:15 PM, the Prime minister was present at an inaugural function wherein he launched the Khelo India Application which is a sports based application. Although, no media briefing had been provided till the next day.

Narendra Modi gave no media briefing, addressed the National Youth Parliament Festival and his last tweet on the 26th of February was a video of his chest thumping speech in the National Youth Parliament that day.

The Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh addressed BJP workers in Bilaspur and reviewed security situation with NSA Ajit Doval in New Delhi. No media briefing was given from his side as well.

Retweeting PM’s speech at the National Youth Parliament Festival, the defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman did not issue any media briefing and chaired the Defence Acquisition Council Meeting in Delhi.

Politicizing The Issue: Ruling Party’s Glaring Insecurities

Banners in Uttar Pradesh asking the public to vote for Narendra Modi the 2019 elections using the Air Strikes by the IAF

Yedyurappa while speaking to media persons during his visit to the city, said the recent decision taken by the PM to conduct an air strike on terrorist camps has invoked the spirit of nationalism among youth.

The Indian Armed Forces proved their mettle by destroying the terrorists’ hideouts. The impact of this strike will help BJP win more than 22 seats in state,” he said.

Gujarat BJP leader and party spokesperson Bharat Pandya on Monday exhorted party workers to turn the “nationalistic wave in the country” in the wake of Pulwama attack that left 40 CRPF men dead into “votes”.

Prime Minister has yet not uttered the name Abhinandan from his lips in this state of utter unity among the citizens of the nation in bringing back the Wing Commander. Instead, he was seen addressing a huge rally of BJP workers on the 28th of February and tweeted publicly using the hashtag ‘MeraBoothSabseMazboot‘, still refraining from giving a media briefing on the capture of Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman or the death of six pilots due to the chopper crash.

Peace: The way out

The praise has not been so much for Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan as it has been for the peace-loving citizens of both India and Pakistan, the ordinary people who made the quick return of IAF pilot Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman possible. It is their voices that created an atmosphere in which Imran Khan could take such a politically risky decision. There was all-round applause in Pakistani Parliament when Imran Khan announced his decision. This shows that there were rational voices among the opposition as well.

From common citizens to prominent figures like Fatima Bhutto, there were appeals for peace and decency in Pakistan. This needs to be appreciated, because if it weren’t for them, it would have been extremely difficult for Imran Khan to take such a politically risky call.

Also, the Indian media and the Indian public discourse didn’t make it easy for Imran Khan to take such a decision. They are describing his gesture as a sign of weakness and capitulation.

The recent events should serve as a reminder that peace should be seen as a sign of moral strength, not weakness. Of course, Pakistan can do more to curb terrorism. India, too, should realize that the situation in Kashmir has only worsened.

The Hate Mongering Media and Advocacy of Toxic Nationalism

..being a nationalist is a prerequisite to being a journalist,” said Arnab Goswami, the patron saint of modern Indian news television, and his clones and devotees have faithfully followed the dictum. We see nightly displays of such nationalist posturing, which include gung-ho discussions led by earnest young men and women.

On Aaj Tak, on a set with the backdrop of India Gate, five men – no women panelists have been visible in recent days – stood, each one offering solutions for “bringing Pakistan to its knees” and “removing the cancer once and for all.” In the foreground, an audience member waved a huge Indian flag.

Where are the “desh drohis”, screamed another anchor, pointing a metaphorical finger at the usual ‘anti-national’ suspects – students, liberals, peaceniks. On one Telugu channel, the anchor dressed up in military fatigues and held a toy gun. 

The aggressive campaign against perceived ‘enemies of the nation’ aligns too closely with the agenda of this government and the larger Sangh parivar. The television channels – at least some of them – appear to be in a coordinated effort to build up a particular mood and narrative, one which suits the government.

They are not merely mouth-pieces or supporters of Narendra Modi and his administration – they are the force multipliers, the bellicose media wing, in place to not just propagate but also to drown out other voices. The belligerence is not a pose – it is the main weapon in this armoury, trained on the ‘enemy’ which has to be crushed.

Journalists have a professional commitment to be objective and balanced, to report the facts and to ask questions of authorities. They are not part of the government or its propaganda arm. Journalists may hold personal views, but have to keep them aside while reporting – that is no reflection of their patriotism, but part of the professional contract with their readers.

Now, the stakes are high and the potential for things escalating and getting out of hand is real. Constant Pakistan bashing in other times is one thing and mildly diverting during ‘normal’ times, but these are not normal times. A government led by people with a visceral dislike for Pakistan and under pressure to show its tough side could take us towards a very dangerous situation.

Yet, large and influential sections of the media have shown no sense of responsibility; their record in fanning the worst kind of xenophobia is shameful. It will have serious long-term repercussions to the country’s secular fabric. When the history of these times is finally written, the media’s reprehensible role in creating a climate of hate will merit a special mention.

Sources- ThePrint, Scroll.in, News18, TheIndianExpress, MumbaiMirror, TheWire

Image Credits- News18, Insidene, Sportstar, BusinessToday, DeccanChronicle, BBC, Mediamantrabymrinalchatterjee

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