Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on Tuesday refused to provide a figure for the number of Jaish-e-Mohammad terrorists said to have been killed in the Indian Air Force’s strikes on the outfit’s camp in Pakistan’s Balakot on February 26. “The Foreign Secretary [Vijay Gokhale] didn’t give a figure,” she told reporters, according to The Hindu. “He gave a statement. That is the Government of India’s position.”
The air strikes were carried out in response to a terrorist attack on a Central Reserve Police Force convoy in Kashmir’s Pulwama on February 14, which killed 40 soldiers.
Air Chief Marshal BS Dhanoa on Monday said that the Indian Air Force is not in a position to count the number of casualties in the cross-border strikes. He said the government would provide such a number. On Sunday, BJP chief Amit Shah claimed that over 250 terrorists were killed in the attacks.
Sitharaman also parried a question about whether India will release satellite imagery of the area which was struck. “Well, I can’t say it now,” the defence minister said.
Sitharaman said the attack on Balakot was not a military action, but merely a “pointed hit” that India decided to make on Jaish-e-Mohammad terrorist camps. “We ensured no civilian there was affected in the attack,” she said.
The defence minister added that both the National Democratic Alliance and the erstwhile United Progressive Alliance governments had given Pakistan evidence of terror training camps in its territory. However, Pakistan has not dismantled any terror camp, she added.
‘Strikes not related to elections’
The defence minister also denied any connection between the air strikes and the upcoming Lok Sabha elections, ANI reported. “There is no relationship between the air strike and elections,” she said. “It was based upon intelligence inputs on terrorist activities in Pakistan, to be unleashed against India.”
Opposition leaders, including West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and Congress leader Navjot Sidhu had asked the Centre whether the air strikes were related to the General Elections, which are expected to be held in April and May. They had asked the government to share details about the strike.
“300 terrorist dead, Yes or No?” Sidhu had tweeted on Monday. “What was the purpose then? Were you uprooting terrorist or trees? Was it an election gimmick?