Pakistan takes global media personnel to site of IAF strike in Balakot

balakot-reuters A cropped version of a satellite image shows a close-up of a madrasa near Balakot, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, Pakistan, March 4, 2019 | Planet Labs Inc./Handout via Reuters

The Pakistan military on Wednesday took a group of international media personnel and foreign diplomats on a tour of a seminary and its surrounding areas in Balakot, where India carried out an air strike on Jaish-e-Mohammed's biggest training camp 43 days ago.

Tensions flared up between India and Pakistan after a suicide bomber of the Jaish killed 40 CRPF personnel in Kashmir's Pulwama district on February 14.

Amid mounting outrage, the Indian Air Force (IAF) carried out a counter-terror operation, hitting the biggest Jaish training camp in Balakot, deep inside Pakistan on February 26. The next day, the Pakistan Air Force retaliated and downed a MiG-21 in aerial combat and captured an IAF pilot, who was handed over to India on March 1.

According to BBC Urdu, the group was flown from Islamabad in a helicopter to Jabba in Balakot. The visitors trekked for about one-and-a-half hour to reach the madrassa on the top of a mountain surrounded by lush green trees.

The group, while going up, also saw a ditch on a hillside where India jets dropped its payload, according to the Pakistan military.

About 150 students, aged 12-13, were present inside the seminary building and were being taught the Quran when the group reached inside the madrassa, they said.

The visit by the group lasted for about 20 minutes and the participants were allowed to take pictures and even some of them spoke to the teachers present there.

Army spokesman Major General Asif Ghafoor held formal and informal chats with the reporters.

"This is an old madrassa and has always been like this," he said, indicating that Indian claim of hitting it was not true.

This was the first formal visit of foreign media and diplomats to the place about which India claimed that its strike killed scores of militants.

The purpose of organising the trip was apparently to fortify Pakistan's claim that Indian failed to destroy any structure or kill anyone during the air strike of February 26, which brought the two nations to the verge of war, he said.